Why Jamie Oliver Is Wrong: 7 Reasons Why Nantes Is France’s Foodie Capital?-Bay of Biscay 4

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Port of Nantes-St. Nazaire

Situated on France‘s Bay of Biscay area along the Atlantic Seaboard is the Port of Nantes-St. Nazaire. An established seaport in Europe due to its history that dates back to the ancient times. Its major trade is oil energy. Total (France’s state-run oil company) has a refinery here but it also handles cargo, feeds and containerized food products, aeronautic parts (Airbus Industrie has a plant in St.Nazaire) and new cars (BMW, also at St. Nazaire). It is located on the Loire estuary, (the longest river in France) from the Bay of Biscay off the Atlantic Ocean. St. Nazaire, a commune about 50 km. from Nantes is predominantly involved in ship building, aeronautics and its fishing tradition.

On Nantes:

Map showing Nantes and St. Nazaire in France. (source: World Atlas)

The 6th largest city in France, Nantes (pronounced as “Nant), a “university town” will always be remembered as the capital of Brittany. This is an administrative region of northwestern France which was once ruled by the Dukes of Brittany (rulers of royal status) with Celtic heritage. Later the Duchy in Nantes was united with France in the 16th century. Their former castle (Castle of the Dukes) and seat of power is still considered as one of the top tourist attractions. Loire River which spills out to the Bay of Biscay’s Atlantic coast is Nantes‘ important artery and lifeblood. Even during the Roman times, the Loire has brought the world to Nantes‘ doorstep different products that prospered. After the French Revolution in 1789, Brittany was divided into 5 regions. Nantes went into the Loire-Atlantique area and in 1955, the city was incorporated to the Pay de la Loire region. It does not belong to Brittany anymore, however Breton influence has remained intact. Nantes at present is the most dynamic city of northwestern France. In fact, Time magazine described Nantes in 2004 as the “most liveable city of Europe“. It was also recognized as a “Green European Capital” in 2013 for its great effort in reducing pollution and improving environmental concerns. The French call them “les Nantais” for male while “les Nantaises” for female.

About St. Nazaire:

Also was once a part of the Duchy of Brittany, St. Nazaire is a commune in the Loire-Atlantique area in northwestern France. It’s about 50 km. from Nantes. While it may not be one of France‘s most touristy town, however it is a perfect place for ship and aircraft enthusiasts. St. Nazaire is famous for its ship building industry since the 19th century. Way back in 1862, St. Nazaire‘s harbor was the point of departures and arrivals of France‘s transatlantic crossing to South America. And because of this the commune was the center for ship building (and repair). RMS Queen Mary 2 (the British transatlantic passenger liner) and MS Symphony of the Stars (1st class cruise ship of Royal Caribbean International) were some of the ships built in St. Nazaire. Airbus Industrie‘s main fuselage sections and wing boxes of their airplanes are also manufactured in this town. It is in St. Nazaire where Airbus fuselage part is made and tested including the company’s A380 fleet, the largest civilian aircraft in the world. In World War II, the town was heavily damaged by the Allied forces because Germany‘s Kriegmarine was based in the area. It suffered a devastating attack in 1945 in order to liberate the town from the Nazis. Despite of not having an important heritage, St. Nazaire basically has its own culture. You know this is a town in northwestern France where things are get done and over with, so that is the reason why visitors do come and flock the area. Tourist activities include STX shipyard tour, Airbus Industrie tour(a peek inside A380), ocean cruises, walking tour to the actual rooms of the ships SS Normandie (1935) and the SS France (1960) built in this town.

Airbus tour in St. Nazaire

For five times during my sailing years, I saw Nantes (with St. Nazaire) between 1992 (Knock Nevis), 1993 (Knock Dun), 1996-1998 (Knock Muir). Total Oil chartered Fred Olsen crude carriers for their refinery at the Port of Nantes-St. Nazaire. Nantes, perhaps it’s the first time you’ve heard about it. It is somewhere over the middle of Loire but towards the western coast off the Bay of Biscay. Or the title of a song by Beirut, the American band. And perhaps it was where the student riot of May 1968 in France started. While this French city may not have the “la belle du bal” (lady of the ball) look of Paris, Lyon or Bordeaux, yet, being in the center of Brittany and Loire River, has the best of land and sea. If you are a connoisseur of French cuisine and gastronomic treasures, this is the place to visit. Nantes is the home of France‘s fantastic white wine (Muscadet) and birthplace of the country’s famous sweet treat – crepe. Well, and there are so much more. Here are 7 reasons why Nantes is France’s foodie capital that proved why Jamie Oliver is wrong:

1. Famous shortbread of France, the sweet, Petit Beurre has its roots in Nantes.

The biscuit of your childhood, the “little butter” shortbread of France petit beurre. One of the most ubiquitous biscuit in the world, simple yet crunchy and sweet. Back in 1886, a certain Monsieur Louis Lefevre who worked for a London-based biscuit factory Huntley and Palmers, began making square butter cookie in his native Nantes. Married to the beautiful Madamoiselle Utile whom he adored so much, he decided to put their initials “LU” (Lefevre et Utile) on every cookie he made. LU petit beurre spread like wildfire not long after and became a trademark in French pastry. The recipe was copied several times in the world and in 1988 it was patented with the name Veritable le Petit Beurre. Why Jamie Oliver is wrong? Petit Beurre, the symbol of Nantes is the reason why it is France’s foodie capital.

Nantes Travel:

Machine d’Ile- a fantasy park of machines in motion at Nantes which includes a 12-meter tall wooden elephant that moves and can carry up to 50 people around the area.

2. Zesty Gateau Nantais, a high-end dessert is France’s hidden “gold”.

Way back to the 18th century, the Port of Nantes-St. Nazaire prospered because of its involvement in the triangular trade (historical term for a trade between 3 ports). Goods from the Caribbean Islands like cane sugar, dark rum and vanilla were imported in great bulks to this port. These were the ingredients used in the creation of the Nantes cake or Gateau Nantais in 1820 by Roleau. He was a baker in Nantes, and since the ingredients of his cake came from the Antilles, it was sometimes called the “traveler’s cake”. Consisting of butter, sugar, flour, eggs, powdered almonds and rum, when baked is doused with rum-infused syrup. It is glazed with confectioner’s sugar and also spiked with rum. Why Jamie Oliver is wrong? Because Gateau Nantais, the zesty high-end dessert of Nantes is what makes it as France’s foodie capital.

Nantes Travel:

The Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne (Castle of the Dukes of Brittany) was a former castle of Nantes’ one time rulers and now home of the Musee d’Histoire de Nantes.

3. Fiery, melt-in-your-mouth Fromage du Cure (le cure nantais).

Thin, with a moist orange rind; creamy and smooth paste texture, this is the first cheese of Brittany. Considered as a vintage cheese, it is also the symbol of Nantes gastronomy. Invented by a priest named Cure during the French Revolution in the village of St. Julien de Concelles. The famous cheese of Nantes has been solely produced by one family in 4 succeeding generations. However their farm was taken over in 1985 and the production has moved to the nearby town of Pornic. This straw-colored cheese is made from cow’s milk with a smoky and a little spicy flavor. It is aged (the curing period) on spruce boards and regularly washed with salted water. Sometimes it is washed with Muscadet wine. Pair it with slices of pear or apple and a glass of Muscadet on the side for your best experience. Why Jamie Oliver is wrong? The vintage cheese Cure Nantais is the reason why Nantes is France’s foodie capital.

4. Smooth as silk, the robust Muscadet Wine.

While there are powerful wines and expensive ones, Muscadet from the westernmost end of the Loire Valley near Nantes is low-key, low-alcohol thus smooth as silk white wine. Made from a grape called melon de Borgogne, it has a “musk” like taste hence the name Muscadet. A light-bodied dry white wine known for its mineral-like and salty characteristics, drinking a glass of Muscadet incorporates an attitude of relaxed elegance. Why Jamie Oliver is wrong? The unpretentious Muscadet wine is a reason why Nantes is France’s foodie capital.

Nantes Travel:

Cathedrale St. Pierre et St. Paul – a Gothic Church in Nantes that houses the royal tomb of the French King Francois II.

5. Savor the rich and creamy Sandre Au Beurre Blanc

As the Loire River ends its long journey to the Bay of Biscay, it pass along Nantes, Therefore, fish and seafood has to be excellent in the area. You have to try a seafood platter that has the freshest ingredient on it. Just simply divine. The Sandre au Beurre Blanc (pike) is a fresh-water fish from the Loire served with Nantes’ Beurre Blanc sauce (butter sauce flavored with shallots and Muscadet wine vinegar). A very simple sauce and famous Nantes specialty but has the most wonderful creamy flavor. And I tell you what, this makes Sandre Au Beurre Blanc so special. Why Jamie Oliver is wrong? The entree, sandra au beurre blanc is one good reason why Nantes is France’s foodie capital.

6. Sweet and savoury Gallette de Sarinsin (Buckwheat Crepe).

The truth is France’s crepe originated in Nantes. This city, famous for its Gallette de Sarinsin (or buckwheat crepe) is made of buckwheat flour. It’s a type of flour (from buckwheat) lighter than the normal (all purpose flour, that is) one. Mixed with egg and water, when the batter is cooked, they fill it with egg, cheese, ham, fruits or veggies as well. Actually, Buckwheat crepe can be a meal by itself in this side of the world. And yes, here in Nantes, they say this has been made before bread was a daily steeple. Why Jamie Oliver is wrong? Gallette de Sarinsin is the reason why Nantes is France’s foodie capital.

Nantes Travel:

The Musee Jules Verne houses the works of French writer Jules Verne (author of Around The World In 80 Days), a native of Nantes.

7. Citrusy yet velvety Les Rigolettes Nantaises

While the petit beurre is an iconic biscuit of Nantes, the lesser-known Rigolette Nantaise is worth your curiosity as well. Colorful, elegantly crafted, and rich in history, this fruity “bonbon” (confection) is a suitable presentation into the magic of Nantes. Going back to 1902, Charles Bohu, a grocery store owner in Nantes came up with a new type of confection which is softer than the petit beurre. It’s made of thin-shell steamed-cooked sugar filled with soft, frosted fruity pulp. This more sophisticated sweet can either be let-it-melt-in-your- mouth thing or bite it slowly. Bohu named his “invention” after his cat Rigolette (rigolar in French means “to laugh”). The new product was an overnight sensation and he later converted his store into a confectionery shop. Les Rigolette Nantais was aimed for the city’s bourgeoise unlike petit beurre which is for the middle class. The fruity pulps used are either lemon, tangerine, blackcurrant, raspberry or other seasonal ones like fig and pear (winter), apricot and cherry (summer). Sometimes it comes with salted caramel flavor which is a Nantais classic. Made from very fresh produce with no coloring or artificial flavoring added, traditional preparation is still observed even to this day. Les Rigolette Nantaise indeed is a tasty treat of modern confectionery but also a part of Nantes cultural heritage. Why Jamie Oliver is wrong? The citrusy yet velvety les rigolette nantaise is a reason why Nantes is France’s foodie capital.

Nantes Travel:

Passage Pommeraye is an ornate 19th century shopping arcade in Nantes which has a glass roof.

A spirited city where the past and present are beautifully blended together to offer you a fun, sophisticated and of course the best of French cuisine – this is Nantes. It should be your upcoming holiday radar the soonest, now that the world is slowly allowing non-essential travel. Que ton voyage se passe bien (May your trip go well). Bonne chance tous (Good luck everyone).

References: Wikipedia; Encyclopedia.com