Monday, July 13, 2009

The Mediterranean diet

The secret of long life in this beautiful part of southern France is often attributed to the Mediterranean diet. It is true that people here do seem to live to a ripe old age, many of them fit and active in their 80s and 90s. Is it something to do with the food we eat?

It is impossible to move here and not eat well. The flat Roussioon plain, which stretches south from Perpignan to the Albères, foothills of the Pyrenees, is a rich source of fresh fruit and vegetables which are sold at local markets and some supermarkets, as well as being distributed throughout France from the wholesale market at St Charles, near Perpignan - which also supplies us with fresh produce transported overnight from Spain.

Local specialities include grapes, green and black olives (and their oil, you can visit an original press at Millas), apples, pears, lemons, and cherries from Céret; and tasty, sometimes odd-shaped, tomatoes in numerous varieties, and a whole range of salads.

Fishing is mainly confined to small local boats that sell their modest catch every morning at the quayside in ports like Argelès, St Cyprien and Canet. Collioure is especially famous for its anchovies which you can see being packed by hand in glass jars, in the two remaining factories in the town. Roussillon is also renowned for its delicatessen ('charcuterie') including a wide selection of hams and sausages.

Add to all this the local wines of Roussillon, a dozen of which have AOC certification, and you can appreciate why it is easy to eat well, and healthily. Roussillon is also recognised for its organic production of fruit, vegetables and wines, with the number of certified 'AB' producers doubling annually in the region. You can pick up guides in the local tourist offices listing organic producers, markets and shops.