The hunt for perfect cassoulet; Fète begins!

Day two begins with picking over the cassoulet recipe, and Ursula brings to the table a huge terracotta-coloured plant pot cassole, the vessel from which the dish gets its name. The wide, fluted top gives a large surface area for that all-important crust, while the depth allows for plenty of stew and bits of confit duck and sausage.

The recipe isn’t a quick one, and as Ursula talks us through each step it’s easy to see why people are so fiercely protective of their own method. Beans – lingot to be truly authentic – must be soaked overnight and then cooked in a homemade chicken stock, enriched by the skin and bones from pork belly. Toulouse sausage, belly and lardons are seared before all of the constituent parts are layered into the dish. Traditionally confit duck or goose is placed in the centre of the stew with the rest of the meat, however Ursula prefers to nestle the confit on top to crisp up the skin (we like her style). The cassoulet is then baked in a low oven for up to three hours, the surface crust stirred in each time it forms to add flavour and body. This should supposedly be done seven times, however three or four is all you can usually manage in the cooking time. Feeling well versed in the ways of cassoulet, we head out to lunch.

The first cassoulet of our quest is eaten at La Calèche in Peyrens, a small family-run restaurant in a village just north of Castelnaudary. The cassoulet is placed before us and we eagerly break the crust, and start to fish around for the best bits; out come pieces of duck and generous lengths of Toulouse sausage, though there’s not an awful lot of pork belly (us, greedy?). The beans are creamily tender without losing their shape, but the stock lacks oomph, and black pepper has been added a little too liberally. A tasty, solid and respectable dish, but we think there’s better to be found.

The fète isn’t just a celebration of the region’s best known dish, but also a chance for the area to throw a bit of a party. The main square is filled with marquees, which in turn are filled with bowls of cassoulet, but before any of that everyone cheers as the Président du Comité dOrganisation de la Fête declares the festival open, and bands, stalls and bars burst into life. The crowd is entertained by what sounds like a French Bryan Adams impersonator; still full from lunch, we slink home for salad and cider. Two cassoulets in one day is too much even for us. 

Official merchandise
Whatever the French for ‘mariachi band’ is

The official mascot

The view from the town’s bridge