FOOD • February 2020
If you’ve never been to Toulouse, France’s fourth-largest city, or even if you have, you’ll see the eyes of gourmands light up when you mention it. Toulouse’s culinary reputation precedes it; see why, as food and travel writer Karyn Noble lifts the lid on six of her favourite tasting experiences in ‘the pink city’
Toulouse’s Marché Victor Hugo can seem a little overwhelming, especially if you don’t speak French. Jessica Hammer from Taste of Toulouse runs tours here and, with her background as a cheesemonger and French wine scholar, she’s the perfect guide. You’ll learn about French food history as well as market etiquette and, depending on your tour, you might stop for a Violette de Toulouse choux pastry from Eléonore, learn how to select chocolates at Criollo Chocolatier, and enjoy a selection of cheese, charcuterie and bread from Chai Vincent Caviste.
What to try: A baguette de tradition from Masion Beauhaire with saucisson sec and rilletes d’oie from Maison Garcia.
One of the best fromageries in Toulouse, Xavier have 300 different types of cheese along with a multitude of other dairy products.
What to try: The Pavé Toulousain is one of a kind: it’s a farm cheese with raw cows milk in a distinctive cube shape and a collaboration between Xavier and Alain Mazars of Aveyron. The taste is mild, creamy and slightly earthy.
Chef Jean-Christophe Fasan from Toulouse’s Restaurant Emile knows his cassoulet and if you have just one in your life, make sure it’s here. Such is his expertise that Jean-Christophe judges cassoulet competitions in the US (if he lets you sneak into the kitchen, you’ll see the media coverage). His secret to this traditional Toulousain dish is the handmade pig lard he sources from a producer in Lot who also supplies President Macron and chef Alain Ducasse. It’s an extremely tasty and hearty dish that takes days to make for maximum flavour, and consists of beans, duck confit and Toulouse sausage.
What to try: The cassoulet followed by the Baba au Rhum (complete with a DIY syringe of rum).
At Compagnie du Chocolat, you can not only find handmade chocolate in the shape of rugby balls (the sport is huge here) or violet-themed gifts (the violet is the symbol of Toulouse), but owner Vincent Puyuelo specialises in making what he calls ‘French fudge’, made with less sugar and more chocolate. Reportedly, it can turn the heads of those who don’t usually like fudge.
What to try: The Dulce de Leche fudge, which received one star in the 2019 Great Taste Awards (held by the Guild of Fine Food in the UK).
Toulouse’s No 5 Wine Bar is not just about the wine (though in 2017 and 2018 it was declared the best wine bar in the world by the World of Wine). Here you will be enchanted by tapas-style tasting menus with exotic ingredients: alongside towers of Normandy butter and Barbary duck from Haneau de Marie Antoninette (40km south of Toulouse) you’ll find the likes of sil-temur berries from Nepal, lemon zest from Iran, pastes of black chickpeas from Southern Italy combined into a cream with curry and yuzu marmalade.
What to try: The menu (15 to 20 mini-dishes) plus five wines for €50 (£42).
If you’d like to watch a robotic arm pour wine, head to La Halle de La Machine. This wonderland of theatrical machines just outside Toulouse’s city centre is home to 6,000sq metres of quirky inventions. Watch a 14-metre-high, 47-tonne Minotaur strolling around with 50 passengers on board while you play with a bread catapault; watch a flying pepper grinder hover over an elaborate dining table, or just enjoy coffee in the Minotaur café with a giant spider.
What to try: The seasonal three-course set menu (€16 (£13) weekdays, €22 (£18) on weekends) in the Minotaure Café, which highlights local produce.
Tempted by a break in Toulouse? Take a look at the latest holiday offers here