Hors Course stage 15: Medieval Carcassonne and its signature dish, cassoulet
As heard on the Tour Daily podcast, José Been takes us off the race route for local historical and cultural context for each stage, from Denmark all the way to Paris.
The arrival of the day is in the magnificent city of Carcassonne. In 2018 Magnus Cort won stage 15 beating Ion Izagirre, and last year Mark Cavendish won his fourth stage of this Tour de France to take his tally to 34.
Carcassonne is a fortified medieval city and unique in Europe for its size and its state of conservation. Its history is marked by 2,000 years of conquest and it was an important bastion of Catharism, a minority religion in Catholic France and during the Crusades. The ramparts of the medieval city are three kilometers long and have no less than 52 massive towers. Overhanging wooden ramparts attached to the upper walls of the fortress protected defenders on the wall and allowed them to fire arrows or drop projectiles at attackers below.
At 19e century Carcassonne is removed from the list of official fortifications under Napoleon. It fell into such disrepair that the French government decided to demolish it, causing an outcry among local citizens.
A successful campaign was launched to renovate the entire city. However, it was a 19e century-old interpretation of the Middle Ages and therefore a slightly romanticized version of the original village. Plague-ridden and infested with rats and disease, the average medieval town was not a pleasant place to live, but regardless, present-day Carcassonne is a fantastic sight to behold.
One of the region’s signature dishes is cassoulet. Carcassonne is home to the one and only Cassoulet Academy which promotes the dish, all the ingredients involved, and the culture and heritage associated with it. It also aims to bring together men and women connoisseurs of the recipe, to promote culinary creativity, traditions and the language of the inhabitants of the South of France and to organize gastronomic, cultural and artistic events. , tourism and media character. All for the sole purpose of promoting the development of His Majesty Cassoulet throughout the world and to make known the Master Cassoulet Chefs and winegrowers of the region. All this according to the official website of the Cassoulet Universal Academy.
Yes, the French take their food and wine very seriously.
Cassoulet is a stew of white beans, various meats and vegetables, and spices and herbs. The dish takes its name from the ceramic pot in which the stew is prepared. This is called a cassole, derived from the Occitan word caçòla, and is used both to prepare and serve the dish.
Cassoulet was born out of famine. According to popular legend, cassoulet was created during the 100 Years War between England and France in the 14th and 15th centuries. Due to the famine, everyone in the community gathered their last provisions and piled them into a cassoulet. Each family brought an ingredient to the recipe. This was then baked for hours in the bakery’s oven.
What was then a poor man’s meal has become a traditional French dish. Throughout France, the stew still enjoys high status and is extremely popular.
So, delve into your kitchen cupboards and find some baked beans as well as vegetable and meat scraps and start cooking. Enjoy your lunch!