While food in Tarn-et-Garonne has a typically southwestern flavor, including every part of the duck, from foie gras and Mulard breast to gizzards, its delightful landscape of peaks and troughs, small valleys and gentle slopes is also known for its centuries-old fruit-growing tradition. Apple, pear and kiwi orchards are a familiar sight in the Tarn Valley, whose hillsides are thick with all kinds of plants and fruit, including the celebrated “Moissac chasselas” grape, which was first awarded Protected Designation of Origin way back in 1971. Some 450 producers have acquired this stamp of quality since then.
Frédéric Raffy is one of them. He farms seven hectares of vines and eight hectares of apple trees along with various cereal crops. He has local roots, but his parents worked as civil servants in Paris. The capital never had the same hold over him as the countryside. After earning a vocational training certificate in agriculture, he went to agricultural college before returning to the land in 1996, when he bought his own farm. He could never imagine doing anything else: “I love working the land” says Frédéric, who certainly takes good care of it.
A member of France’s High Environmental Value certification scheme, he is changing the way he works the land, mindful of the need to protect the soil, plants and the environment. Things like flattening the grass that grows between the rows of vines to keep the soil cool.
This is the sort of attention to detail a DPO with a strict set of specifications requires at every step of the way. When picked, the bunches must be flexible, a deep golden color, with a minimum length of 12 cm and a weight of least 100 g. The grapes should also be at peak maturity to remove any trace of acidity – no wonder they’re so sweet! Nothing is left to chance.
When the bunches of grapes are picked, starting in early September, they are stored in small crates to prevent crushing. They are then cleaned inside to remove any residues before being placed in cartons. DPO is hard work. But you can certainly taste the difference! The Moissac chasselas make delicious table grapes to eat just as they are, as Frédéric does, or to enjoy in original dishes. Many chefs turn them into tasty tarts and sorbets or use them to add a refreshing touch to Mulard duck breast!