Gastronomically, the Languedoc isn't the most renowned of France's regions - a turbulent history and a degree of confusion due to culinary diversity being the main reasons for this. Its location at a geographic crossroads means that a wide variety of ingredients are available and the diverse cuisine this leads to make it a great all-rounder. On the coast is the seafood of the Mediterranean, go north and there is the full range of mountain produce - many overlook that Lozere is part of the region. Catalonia to the southwest brings a refreshing non-French influence. The Pyrenees and Gascony, land of the duck and goose, are to the west. Last but not least, to the east is the vibrant market garden that is Provençe.

The markets of the region are the best and most enjoyable means of obtaining ingredients. A comprehensive list of Languedoc markets can be found at the-languedoc-page.

Seasons are everything. Winter is obviously the leanest time for fresh fruit and vegetables, but at least the better supplies from Spain and North Africa are available as opposed to the bland Dutch greenhouse produce that dominates further north in Europe. The first Green Asparagus from the Herault at the end of March marks the arrival of spring produce.

Local ingredients

Fish from the Mediterranean - thon (tuna), sardines, anchovies, baudroie (local name for lotte i.e. monkfish), rouget (red mullet), seiche (cuttlefish), calamar (squid), supions (baby squid or cuttlefish), encornets (local name for squid), pisseur (local type of squid with pale skin and longer tentacles), poulpe (octopus), dourade (bream), loup (sea bass) - to name but a few.

Shellfish - is reared in the large Basin de Thau behind Sete with its miles of oyster and mussel beds. Young shells are actually imported from the Atlantic coast to mature in the basin. Connoisseurs will say they are inferior to produce from cooler Atlantic waters, but locally they will be fresher. Also look out for small triangular clams called tellines, they're sweet and make a superb jus.

Anchovies - most famously landed at Collioure on the Cote Vermille near Spain, are available fresh, salted, in oil or marinated in various ways.

Salt Cod - would have originally arrived via traders from the north and could penetrate much further inland than fresh fish in the days before roads and refrigeration. Best known for carefully mixing with olive oil, milk, garlic and perhaps a little potato to make Brandade de Morue, a speciality of Nîmes.

Charcuterie - dried sausages are made all over region but for something special and reliable seek out the mountain produce from Lacaune.

Cheese - with the Languedoc planes dominated by vines one has to head for the limestone hills to find sheep and goat country. The most famous cheese is the blue Roquefort. Matured in the caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon (politically in the Midi-Pyreneees) much of it originates from the ewes living on the high Grande Causses (limestone plateaus) of which Larzac is by far the largest.
All over the hills goat's milk makes small Pélardons and Crotins. Perail is a runny sheep's cheese made throughout the region. Beyond the Causses are the mountains of the Auvergne and their famous cows cheeses - St. Nectaire, the Cantal family (Salers, Laguiole), Tommes of all descriptions etc.

Olives and olive oil - the Languedoc is on the northerly margins for the frost hating olive tree. The oils are light and elegant in style and ideal for complementing more delicately flavoured food such as fish. Low yields mean that they are expensive so use them on their own as seasoning oils and keep Spanish or Greek oil for making up dressings and cooking. If you like your oil particularly peppery then watch out for new seasons oil from the end of the year.
Without doubt the star eating olive is the local bright green lucque. These are best freshly bought as they oxidise (go dark green and the flavour dulls) within days once exposed to the air. Sealed jars will preserve them for several months. The green Picholine variety also eats very well, as do the marinated small brown variety known as Niçoise.

Honey - there are apiculteurs all over the region. Depending on the blossom and flowers in season different honeys are produced so have a tasting at a market stall or visit a producer. The range is as diverse as wine with the heady flavours from the indigenous plants and trees resulting in some powerful tastes such as chestnut and lavender. If you like something more delicate seek out bruyère (heather).

Camargue Red rice - is an attractive brick red colour and has a nutty flavour with firm texture

Garrigue herbs - the limestone scrubland dotted with holm oaks and other shrubs is known as the garrigue. A profusion of wild rosmary, thyme, fennel, bay, juniper (higher areas) etc. make it a heady place, especially a few days after some good rains.

Salt - The town of Aigues-Mortes at the edge of the Camargue remains a major producer of salt. Fleur de Sel is collected by hand when the conditions are right for surface crystals to form on the evaporating salines. Buy it in small cork lidded tubs that state the name of the family producer and use it as a garnish. La Baleine (whale) make a more everyday salt that's available world wide.

Seasonal Ingredients

Green Asparagus - the first of the new seasons produce appears from the end of March (best, with most flavour) to the beginning of June

Garlic - new seasons green garlic from May. The purple tinged skined Ail rose de Lautrec is the finest.

Cherries - Ceret is near where the Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean and lays claim to the region's first cherries in May, but for the best eating wait until June.

Strawberries - the local Gariguettes peak from mid-April to the end of May but watch out for other named varieties such as Mara de Bois from small holders.

Apricots, Peaches and Melons - ripen in June when roadside and ad-hoc village stalls appear in abundance.

Tomatoes, Aubergines, Courgettes and Peppers - are best in summer. Look for small-holder produce and remember that ugly shape usually means best flavour.

Figs - these grow wild and there are two seasons. In late June they are delicate and succulent, and from August they become prolific. There are several varieties. The pear shaped fig blanche are the best eaters followed by the more common black figs that have a redder flesh. Green figs are last to appear and are ripest in October.

Grapes - table grapes arrive from September with several varieties being available. Don't expect many seedless specimens, those with pips do have more flavour.

Chestnuts - the slopes of the Cevennes, especially away from the river Herault area where there is less limestone, are heaving with chestnuts from mid-autumn. Olargues is a particularly renowned area.

Walnuts and almonds - the region's trees provide an abundant autumn harvest.

Wild mushrooms - are most common in the autumn when the large cèps arrive from the mountains of Lozere. Buying cèps can be very hit and miss as some lack flavour.

Pomegranates - bushes grow in the hedgerows but the fruits are barely edible, perhaps because they don't get enough water.

Quinces - can again be found in the hedgerows, but wild one's are susceptible to insect infestation.

Winter root vegetables - the village of Pardailhan in the cooler Haut-Languedoc is renowned for its Navet Noir (black turnip), carrots and other root vegetables grown on a schist soil plateau.

Onions - Cebes, sweet white onions famous in the area around Lézignan-la-Cèbe in the Herault valley.

Regional Dishes

Finding good examples of region dishes can be a challenge. Many restaurants find they don't sell well as presumably most diners want something different. Where they are available it's often for tourists and cost pressures invariably mean that short cuts are taken and quality suffers.

Rouille à la setoise - cuttlefish cooked in a tomato and saffron sauce thickened with a garlic and olive oil aioli. Also cooked in a similar way is encornets farci - stuffed young squid. Bourride de Sète is similar but features monkfish (locally called boudroie). Bourride can also mean a soupy fish stew - a more rustic Languedoc version of Provençe's bouillabaisse.

Tielle or Tièle - these orange glazed seafood pies are commonly seen in markets (and supermarkets). Quality varies and they have a high percentage of pastry so big is better plus they're splendid takeaway food. Based on poulpes (octopus) and tomato they came to Sete with Italian migrants. The best are made by Cianni - available in the Cenral Halles or from their ovens at 24 rue Honoré Euzet.

Anchoïade - is a spread similar to tapenade (olives, capers, garlic and olive oil) but with the addition of anchovies.

Petits pâtés de Pézenas - these disappointing small pastries look like toadstools and are stuffed with sweet lightly spiced mutton. Said to have been introduced by Clive of India.

Cassoulet de Castelnaudary - acknowledged home of this rich, slow cooked crusted haricot bean stew packed with duck or goose confit and Toulouse sausages. Definitive winter fayre.

Brandade de morue - amalgamated salt cod, olive oil, milk, garlic and perhaps a little potato. Can be served warm or cold. Best to make it at home.

Aligot - what is basically a mixture of mash potato and mountain cheese with garlic is, when well made, a uniquely stringy textured and delicious creation that demands second helpings.

À la catalane - a dish with a base of tomatoes, onions, garlic, red or green peppers and ideally some red Banyuls wine.

À la languedocienne - a dish with a base of dried ham, garlic, chard and parsley but in practice has pretty diverse interpretation.

Crème catalane - is crème brûleé flavoured with lemon peel, fennel seed and perhaps cinnamon bark.