Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Languedoc Roussillon - White Peaches

The Languedoc Roussillon is renowned for its luscious white peaches. These white-fleshed fruits have been cultivated for hundreds of years and have occurred in nature for thousands. Records of white-fleshed peach varieties can be traced to the mid-1600s and Pavie de Pampone and Gross Mignonne are two heritage varieties that are still grown in France. They were a favourite fruit of Louis XIV: he had thirty-three different varieties grown in his orchard at Versailles.

The word peach (French word pêche) comes from an early European belief that peaches were native to Persia (now Iran). The modern botanical consensus is that they originate in China, and were introduced to Persia and the Mediterranean region along the Silk Road before Christian times. Cultivated peaches are divided into cling stones and free stones, depending on whether the flesh sticks to the stone or not. In France you will find peaches of the cling stone variety referred to as "Pavia". The word, which appeared in the language in 1560, is borrowed from Pavia, a town of Gers, famous for its peaches via the Silk Road.

There are also Pêches de Vigne (literally peaches of the grapevine), which are small red-fleshed peaches grown in vineyards. They are covered with greyish down, but the flavour is superb and not likely to be found outside markets in France. This ancient variety of peach has traditionally been planted among the grapevines as an indicator plant. As peaches are even more susceptible than grapes to the same diseases, the appearance of disease on the peach signals the immediate need to treat the grapevines before disease spreads.

In spite of its humble position as a sacrificial lamb to the noble grape, the Pêche de Vigne is one of the most sumptuous. Pêche de Vigne is basically a white peach, but its flesh is stained a deep red almost all the way to the pit. This heirloom peach is richly perfumed and tastes like a cross between a ripe and juicy white peach and a succulent raspberry.

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