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In the sunshine, the gardens, orchards and vineyards extend outwards between the sea and the mountains, and produce fruit and vegetables synonymous with well-being and healthy eating.

Aubrac beef and Camargue bull gardiane, Carcassonne or Castelnaudary cassoulet and tapenade, cheerful wines and sparkling or natural still water, sweet melons and Cévennes onions… there are so much varied and original produce offered by Languedoc-Roussillon. This sun-drenched land, made from plains, mountains, valleys, small rivers and sandy beaches, allows you to discover a whole range of subtle flavours.

The journey gets under way at Aigues-Mortes in the Gard region. The ruins of the battlement built by the son of St. Louis reflect in the red, saline waters. White salt hillocks, the camelles, stand on the river banks. This salt is known under the brand name “La Baleine”. Slightly further towards the Rhone, there are flamingos flying over the paddy fields. Flooded plains stretch across the horizon into the Camargue, which is the main production area for French rice.

After Nîmes, the winding road meanders between the chestnut trees. A heard of goats climb the slopes over the yellowed moors. On this land in the Cévennes region between Gard and Lozère, over a hundred farmers produce the famous pélardon cheese – a small all-round and creamy goat’s cheese which has gained wide recognition through a protected designation of origin (AOP). The Pic Saint Loup looms beyond the terraced fields and orchards. A land of scrub woodland with its aromatic herbs, silvery olive trees, and the first vines of the largest and oldest winery region in the world.

Winemakers join forces with fruit and vegetable growers and tree specialists, from the banks of the Rhone to the vast Roussillon plain. The traditional irrigation network of the Catalan region, just like the bold channel of the Lower Rhone, has transformed the region into the “Garden of the south”. In the green valley of the Têt, there are sweet and tasty peaches, and the yellow and orange coloured apricots from Roussillon illuminate the orchards. In Céret, the market stalls are full of cherries in springtime. Final stage: Aude. With its honey, its Lauragais capons, its white coco beans – among the main ingredients in Limoux fricassée as well as in the famous cassoulet. The Aude department also reflects the diversity of the regional food industries.

Sea bass, sea bream, sole, turbot, anchovies, sardines, mackerel, whiting… along with oysters from the Thau lagoon or from Leucate, open sea mussels and clams from across the entire 220 km of coastline, where the Mediterranean offers a huge selection of fish, shellfish and crustaceans.

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From producer to consumer

The dynamism of the agri-food chain lies in the expertise of small businesses, and in the colours of the terroirs, however it is also linked to the presence of major brands which are firmly established within the territory. Sparkling water is proving to be a real economic resource in Languedoc-Roussillon. With Perrier in the Gard town of Vergèze, Quézac in Lozère or even Salvetat-sur-Agout in the Hérault region, mineral waters spring from the earth before being bottled and shipped around the world.

It is no wonder thus that so many specialists within the pet food industry are still choosing to set up in this area of the south – with very often unique and innovative businesses. The Languedoc region is also at the forefront of confectionery, because liquorice and marshmallow were born in the region: the Uzès liquorice stick (and it’s no coincidence that the main Haribo factory is currently based there!), and Montpellier Grisettes, a subtle blend of liquorice and honey…

Because it can benefit from the close proximity of all of its fresh produce, the processing of fruit and vegetables, meat and fish dishes, and the salting process form an important component of the Languedoc-Roussillon region’s economic clout: Nîmes brandade, small Pézenas pâté, Sète tielles…

In the Cévennes region, the food trade has emerged into a saviour after the silk industry ceased in the 1950s. Men have revived the production of sweet onions on the terraces where they once grew. “We knew how to adapt to economic change and to new technology”, said a manager from within the industry. The sweet Cévennes onion has now been awarded the coveted AOC label. This success has helped revive other productions such as Vigan reinette (russet) apple or even chestnuts.

The most important peach production in France

The Languedoc-Roussillon region was involved in a large-scale replantation of olive trees in the 1980s. “A recovery plan initiated at a European level has enabled us to become the second most popular French region for the production of olive oil, and the leading French region for the production of table olives, the Lucques, a true ‘green diamond’ , and the Picholine du Gard,”, comments a young lady who manages an oil mill.

Besides, the Languedoc-Roussillon region takes great pride in being the most important peach production area in France and the second one for apricots”, says a proud grower. Other reasons for satisfaction: the Pyrénées-Orientales region occupies the top positions for the production of salads, and the department of Hérault is ranked third for melon production.

Thirty storage sites, two ports equipped with a grain terminal, and twenty processing factories… a set of figures which demonstrate the crucial role of another industry: cereals. “Languedoc-Roussillon is the third most popular region in France for producing durum wheat for the composition of flour, including those used for our famous Raspaillou bread – organic Gard and Hérault breads, the professional insists.

The region also stands out for its high level of organic farming. Languedoc-Roussillon is ranked as the leading French region for sustainable agriculture, primarily for organic winemaking, and for protecting the environment. “The search for authenticity remains crucial to us,” the tree specialist adds.

Fine dining

There is no question of compromising on taste with any of the produce. Ranging from Mediterranean wines to fruits, all of these are provided under the Controlled Designation of Origin (AOC – Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), the Protected geographical indication (IGP – Indication géographique protégée) – and/or include the seal Label Rouge (red label) or AB (Agriculture Biologique) for organic agriculture. All these widely recognised certifications are guaranteed signs of quality – even if the key remains for us to respect traditions. An example? The Brandade. “The factory which crafts this specialty dates back to 1936, and is equipped with advanced technology for producing both authentic and healthy produce,” says this manufacturer from Nîmes.

Traceability is also a requirement in the Lozère Mountains for Aubrac cattle, the “Fleur d’Aubrac” brand. The famous four-leaf clover, a guarantee of authenticity will only be awarded if very stringent requirements have been met. “The certificate stating the animal’s date of birth, the producer’s name, and the approval number of the slaughterhouse, will accompany the animal to the butcher’s stall”, states this breeder. Quality rules not only apply to the Fleur d’Aubrac heifer, but also to Catalan Pyrenees veal, Rosée des Pyrénées (Pyrenees dew), Cerdanya Capcir veal, Catalan or Lozère lamb, the Camargue bull – and various poultry including the Lauragais capon along with Cévennes and Languedoc chickens. “Given the health risks associated with produce, producers of meat and pre-cooked dishes have implemented highly advanced hygiene and surveillance measures into their processes”, insists a Catalan farmer.

In the farms on the Causse plateaus, the herders respect nature and work in harmony with it. Milk from their ewes provides the raw material for Roquefort cheese. Their herds benefit from traditional treatment and a silage free diet. Here, the cheese is moulded by hand.

The same philosophy prevails in the Bassin de Thau. In order to ensure the highest quality of their oyster, the shellfish farmers have implemented a highly demanding traceability system, “it is well in advance of those required by health organisations”, says the Bouzigues oyster farmer.

All of the food businesses in the Languedoc-Roussillon region are engaged in a process which promotes healthy eating and well-being in Languedoc-Roussillon. A tradition which fits naturally into the model of the Mediterranean diet by combining good food, health, and a nutritional balance. This diet consists predominantly of seasonal fruit and vegetables, as well as cereals, olive oils, pulses… an entire range grown in Languedoc-Roussillon and which is synonymous with good health and well-being.