Libraries have a complex system of organizing their books, based primarily on the main subject matter of each title, and cataloged accordingly. Every once in a while, a book will come along that is a little more difficult to categorize. One such a book is "Walnut Wine & Truffle Groves: Culinary Adventures in the Dordogne," by author and Burbank native Kimberley Lovato and Florida-based chef Laura Schmalhorst.
As a librarian, it would be difficult to consign this book to the cookbook section, as it has so much more to offer than just the recipes. It is a collection of biographies featuring regional chefs and winery owners and other culinary entrepreneurs of the Dordogne region of France. It is a travel guide, painting vivid pictures of the beautiful countryside and the subtle elegance of the local culture to be lapped up by many an armchair traveler. Lastly, it is a cookbook featuring tantalizing recipes for any gourmet.
The book starts with a lovely foreword by one of the Dordogne's premiere culinary professors, Daniele Maze-Delpeuch, highlighting just how much the authors loved the region and its epicurean delights. This is followed by an alliterative introduction to the Dordogne, its charming way of life, and a few dining traditions one might not be aware of, such as keeping one's hands above the table, which is rather contrary for those of us raised to have our hands in our laps.
Throughout the book are short profiles featuring food-related citizens of the "Perigourd" — another name for the Dordogne region. Each mini-biography includes a personal philosophy on eating, cooking and the way of life. Hughes Martin, a local truffle hunter, gives lessons on how to pick the perfect truffle. François-Xavier de St. Exupéry, descendant of "The Little Prince" author Antoine de St. Exupéry, talks of his family history and the importance of sharing good food and good wine.
Vignettes portraying the area and its vibrant local scene are interspersed among the people and the recipes, discussing the excitement one finds at the local night markets in contrast with the beauty of flying over the land in a hot air balloon, looking down on the many vineyards and castle-like estates splattered across the countryside.
In the midst of the authors' gastronomic adventure, they pause to take in the beauty of their surroundings, such as "Les Jardins Suspendus de Marqueyssac Souillac," a 54-acre garden expanse worthy of taking a day off from eating.
Each chapter features a certain element of Perigourdine cuisine, and the recipes in each are indicative of their surroundings. In a chapter called "The Alchemists," one finds more modern fusion recipes, deviating from traditional Dordogne delicacies by adding a splash of the outside world.
One recipe I sampled from this chapter was the Lavender Crème Caramel with Wild Strawberries, described as "having a bath and dessert at the same time," was simple to prepare and brought out delectable flavors. Many of the recipes require goose or duck fat, so take some time to prepare your kitchen.
At the end of the book there are places to go, accommodations and most importantly, where one can purchase some of the items not commonly found outside of the Dordogne so that you may experience a little bit of France in your own kitchen. This is a wonderful book for many to enjoy!
Infobox What: "Walnut Wine and Truffle Groves: Culinary Adventures In The Dordogne," by Kimberley Lovato and Laura SchmalhorstPublisher: Running Press Book Publishers, 2009, Hardback: $29.95Available at: Once Upon A Time Bookshoppe, Montrose, (818) 248-9668