Beaumont-de-Lomagne: Garlic Capital of Southwest France

 

View of Beaumont-de-Lomagne and the surrounding country

View of Beaumont-de-Lomagne and the surrounding country

I’ve been getting out and about a lot recently, interviewing people for various magazine articles. This gets me away from the computer and the internet and introduces me to places I might not otherwise have visited. On Tuesday, my mission was to go to Beaumont-de-Lomagne to interview garlic growers.

It’s an easy and pleasant 90 kilometre drive from us, on the other side of the département. Tarn-et-Garonne is one of the smaller French départements but the landscape is surprisingly varied. The countryside around Montauban is flat and not very interesting. But further southwest you come to the rolling hills of Gascony and the area known as the Lomagne. The bastide of Beaumont is one of its main towns.

Potted history

Enormous market hall with 38 wooden pillars

Enormous market hall with 38 wooden pillars

Beaumont is a compact, well-preserved example of a bastide, the medieval new towns that sprang up during the 13th century throughout the south west. The streets are laid out in a grid pattern with a large central square, dominated by an immense market hall.

Beaumont was founded in 1276. Four years later, work started on the huge church but was not complete until 1430. It has a massive bell-tower, not unlike Saint-Sernin in Toulouse. The town contains good examples of half-timbered medieval houses and 17th/18th-century mansions.

Massive fortified church at Beaumont-de-Lomagne

Massive fortified church at Beaumont-de-Lomagne

 

15th-century residence of Jean d'Armagnac

15th-century residence of Jean d’Armagnac

 

15th-century residence of the Seigneurs d'Argombat

15th-century residence of the Seigneurs d’Argombat

Like many towns in the region, Beaumont was taken and re-taken during the Hundred Years War, suffered from the plague in the 14th century and was a pawn of both sides during the Wars of Religion in the late 16th century. It was involved in the fronde rebellion against Louis XIV, played a minor part in the French Revolution and was finally attached to the new département of Tarn-et-Garonne in 1808.

Mathematical genius

The celebrated mathematician Pierre de Fermat was born at Beaumont in the early 17th century (date not certain). He contributed to the early development of calculus, probability theory and number theory. He claimed to have solved and proved various theorems but many of his proofs have not survived, including that of his famous Last Theorem (don’t ask). When I went, his statue was being re-cast, so I saw only the empty plinth.

The empty plinth of Fermat's statue

The empty plinth of Fermat’s statue

Lomagne garlic

Garlic for which the area is celebrated

Garlic for which the area is celebrated

Nowadays, the town and surrounding area are particularly noted for the cultivation of garlic – l’ail blanc de Lomagne. I went to meet Céline Fresquet and Alain Sancey, leading lights in the association that promotes garlic and runs a huge fête every July in celebration of it. Céline took me on a tour of Beaumont, I interviewed them both over lunch and then we went out to Alain’s farm in the hills west of the town.

There, I met other members of his family, who progressively emerged from the fastness of an inner room to inspect this strange-accented person. Once they realised I speak French quite well, they all started talking at once and it took some time to get away.

Alain and Céline pose in front of a field of young garlic

Alain and Céline pose in front of a field of young garlic

 

Alain’s mother presented me with a large bag of aillettes. These are young spring shoots of garlic, not unlike spring onions to look at. The bulb does not develop until later.

Alain showed me how to peel and separate the white part.

‘Then you chop it up, not too finely, and fry it in oil,’ he said. ‘Drain off the oil and use the fried aillette to flavour an omelette. It’s delicious. Or you can use it in a salad or with sliced tomatoes. The flavour is less strong than mature garlic.’

Céline and Alain couldn’t have been more helpful. They spent a lot of time explaining how garlic is grown and conditioned and told me about the annual garlic fête, which attracts 15,000 people.

As Céline and I prepared to drive off, Alain leaned through the car window and wagged his finger at me.

‘We expect to see you at the fête on 20th July.’

Lomagne Tourist Office

You might also like:

Garlic and Garlic Recipes
Beautiful Bastide: Villeneuve-d’Aveyron
Villefranche-de-Rouergue: Past Glories
The Tale of Napoleon’s Thumb

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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6 Responses to Beaumont-de-Lomagne: Garlic Capital of Southwest France

  1. pfornari says:

    Fabulous article, vanessa, and great photos!

    • nessafrance says:

      I spent a lovely day there. Whilst I will never be perfect in French, it is so important to be able to speak the language to a certain level of proficiency. It opens so many doors.

  2. Evelyn says:

    Very interesting, Vanessa! You’ll have to do a follow up post when you cook with the young garlic. I’d love to know if it is really mild enough to use in an omelette.

    • nessafrance says:

      I still have the aillettes in a plastic bag in the garage. It might be young garlic but it still has a strong smell, so I don’t really want it in the house! The omelette is on the menu for tomorrow. Will keep you informed.

  3. Miriam says:

    How interesting! Lovely to learn a bit about a foreign country from someone who knows so much about it but can still look at it from the outside. That shows me why people like it when I attempt to do the same.

    • nessafrance says:

      I will never be anything but an outsider here, although a reasonably well informed one. Speaking the lingo helps a lot, even if I do it imperfectly. At least I can communicate, which is the key thing.

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