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Five experiences for food lovers in Cognac, France

Host region of this year’s French Michelin star ceremony, Cognac is home to culinary attractions from brandy distilleries to fine dining restaurants.

The region in southwest France is best-known for its eponymous brandy, but has lately caught the attention of gastronomes.

Photograph by Getty Images
By Sarah Gillespie
Published 19 Mar 2022, 06:00 GMT, Updated 22 Mar 2022, 12:51 GMT

Cognac is France as seen on postcards — a patchwork of grape, corn and sunflower fields dotted with stone churches and vine-covered hamlets. The region in southwest France is best-known for its eponymous brandy, but has lately caught the attention of gastronomes, with chic restaurants that combine seasonal produce from home and abroad. On 22 March, the country’s brightest culinary talent descends on Cognac for the announcement of France’s Michelin stars – the first time the ceremony will have taken place outside of Paris — but its boutique distilleries, restaurants and other gastronomic attractions warrant a visit year-round.

The restaurant

Amandine Bernanose was once a dance teacher; now, as Poulpette’s head of service, she presents the energetic creations of her partner, chef Antoine Vernouillet. A steel counter, neon art and hand-thrown crockery make Poulpette feel more cafe than gourmet — but the short, rotating menu is Michelin-worthy, with produce largely sourced from a single organic grower. Expect market-fresh plates such as rose-pink beef fillet with a celeriac mash quenelle, topped with a spray of dill. The desserts, meanwhile, present ordinary ingredients such as blueberries and basil in extraordinary ways, and the reasonably priced French wines make excellent pairings. Mains from €19 (£16). 

The market

The heart of Cognac town is its covered market, where elderly locals in Breton-striped tops meet for a coffee and a catch-up. Within the iron-roofed structure, designed by architect Victor Ballard in the style of 19th-century covered markets, you’ll find crates of French and Icelandic oysters, bouquets of tulips and lilies, fat bunches of carrots and glossy aubergines. A popular local pastime is to buy a selection of cheeses, a baguette and a bottle of Pinot Noir to enjoy at one of the long tables, or next to the Charente River. 16-20 Place d'Armes, 16100 Cognac; open until 1pm Tuesday-Saturday.

Read more: A taste of France in six drinks

At Les Foudres, Michelin-starred head chef Marc-Antoine LePage crafts works of art from unusual culinary pairings.

Photograph by Solène Guillaud

The hotel

Hotel Chais Monnet & Spa, the host accommodation for this year’s Michelin delegates, is a destination in itself. This 92-room former cognac house has a Michelin star of its own, for Les Foudres restaurant. Here, head chef Marc-Antoine LePage crafts works of art from unusual pairings: pigeon breast with beetroot and blackberry, or line-caught wild turbot with baby carrot purée and Filipino calamansi. For more casual French fare, La Distillerie brasserie – also in the hotel — serves dishes such as parsley-smothered escargot, as well as neatly piped pastries. The spa, meanwhile, offers a signature treatment that includes a Charente salt and grapeseed oil foot scrub. Doubles from €290 (£244), room only; mains at Les Foudres from €42 (£35) and at La Distillerie from €16 (£13).

The distillery

The major cognac brands rarely grow their own grapes, relying instead on thousands of boutique distillers, who supply them with an acidic eau de vie — white wine made largely from ugni blanc grapes — from which they make their brandy. However, Maison Painturaud Frères, founded in 1934, produces its own eau de vie (as well as supplying the likes of mega-distiller Rémy Martin), and its distillery – which has been in the same family for generations – offers tours and tastings. Brothers Emmanuel and Jean-Philippe Painturaud sell their single-vineyard cognacs alongside Pineau de Charentes, a cognac-and-grape-juice blend that’s popular as an aperitif. Tour and tasting €6 (£5), by appointment only.

The vinegar-maker

Cognac production is not the only destination for ugni blanc grapes — they’re also bought by local balsamic vinegar producer Le Baume de Bouteville. The distillery is 13 miles east of Cognac town and run by friends Lionel Sack and Cédric Reynaud, who make the vinegar by heating grape juice before ageing it in oak barrels. The result is a cognac-like balsamic with a lower sugar content than Italian varieties. Samples available to taste range in age from three to 10 years; there’s also the option to pair them with French and Irish oysters from nearby producer Huitres Cocollos. Tours include the nearby Chateau de Bouteville, and tastings for four €36 (£30), or €80 (£67) with oysters.

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