The Foire au Boudin which is held every spring in Mortagne au Perche in Normandy is the greatest celebration of black pudding on the planet. It is about celebrating the product in all its different forms every bit as much as it is about deciding who, for that year at least, has made the best. Here is our take on the most important aspect of the festival – the black pudding, or as they would have it in this haven of France, le boudin.
The boudin was, without exception, delicious. After the judges had cast their votes on the winning puds, blackpudding.org had the rare privilege of wandering round the tables and helping ourselves. And we did.
There was black pudding with fruit or with vegetables. Black pudding from every region of France, from Germany and Austria, from Ireland and the French West Indies. Black pudding with herbs or cream, with bread or raisins. Black pudding studded with fat. Black puddings so black that even the white bits were black. It was incredible. Boudin, boudin everywhere and not a drop too pink.
The black pudding was so good that we weren’t put off by the fact that it hadn’t actually been cooked. Of course it was cooked in the making but that was it, no grilling and no frying. It came as you would get it in a shop but it was no worse for that. With 600 entries to get through, the Chevaliers du Goute Boudin simply didn’t have time to cook them before they tasted them.
There was boudin from Lyon containing raw onions marinated in brandy and herbs. Boudin from Auvergne which contained milk, Poitou boudin prepared without fat but with cooked spinach, cream, semolina and eggs.
There was Normandy boudin with apples, Brittany boudin with prunes, boudin from Flanders with raisins, Auvergne boudin with chestnuts, smoked Strasbourg boudin with pork rind and bread soaked in milk.
There was table upon table with boudin nature, the basic and beautiful staple that has nothing but equal parts of blood, fat and onions and is sometimes called boudin de Paris. All shapes, all sizes, and lots and lots of it. It is said that if all the black pudding consumed over the weekend of the fair was laid end to end – and isn’t that a great thought – then it would stretch for over five kilometres. That’s a lot of boudin noir.
But perhaps the best of it – certainly the most fantastic selection of it – was on the table nearest the door where lay the most incredible black pudding creations you have ever set eyes on. It was the “creatif” section.
There was a whole suckling pig, lying there in its glazed glory with a boudin resting in its mouth. The poor creature had been neatly split in two, skilfully hollowed out and was now full to the gunwales with black pudding. Vegetarians or animal lovers, in the unlikely event there were many of these in Mortagne just then, would most probably not approve but this was a work of art.
Next to the pig that had given up not just its blood but its entire body to the cause of black pudding appreciation was a creation of such gastronomic overload that it harked back to the most hedonistic days of ancient Rome. Except that they might have thought it was a tad over the top.
Imagine if you will, a saddle of the finest black pudding studded with quails’ eggs under a thick blanket of succulent Scottish salmon. As if that wasn’t enough, there was a whole glazed lobster straddling the entire epicurean ensemble. This was not just black pudding, this was Mortagne-au-Perche black pudding.
Perhaps our favourite however was the cake. It really did look mouth-wateringly good, a choc lover’s dream made true. Dark and white squares, like a chocolate chessboard, topped a six-inch high, layered delight. The gateau was cut open to reveal perfectly equal Battenberg-style squares – and its dark, bloody secret. This was a cake from the little shop of horrors – chocolate and black pudding and fat.
Wow. How could something so wrong taste so right? The dark, strong, slightly bitter chocolate worked perfectly with the tangy boudin. Their two consistencies were close enough that you couldn’t immediately tell where one stopped and the other began. Look up guilty pleasures in a good dictionary and there will be a picture of this cake. Okay there won’t but there ought to be.
The delights were everywhere.
Tiered silver trays of fancies perched gracefully on glass salvers – anywhere else in the world, of course, they would be dainty cakes but this was Mortagne and they were dainty boudin.
Look left and you saw generous slices of gelatinous boudin topped with chocolate and cranberries. Look right and there were pastry parcels filled with fruit and pudding sitting next to a plate filled with pretty black and white towers of thinly sliced boudin and fat.
Mortagne au Perche is heaven on earth for the black pudding lover. It celebrates everything that is best about this magnificent food.