The flavours of Ariege are basically Pyrenean mountain food produced in lush meadows or raised in the high pastures, food to warm you in winter like Azinat (a cabbage stew with duck conserve) or mounjetado, an Ariege cassoulet with Pamiers beans, pork and sausage. There’s foie gras from free-ranging geese, charcuterie including black pudding, and stewed isard goat. Bear steak is a delicacy no longer found on the menu but try instead some red label Gascon beef raised in the Pyrenean foothills and full of fine flavour. Cheese is a natural staple in this pastoral area. Disc-shaped tomme des Pyrenees from the Couserans can be made with fresh cows, goats or ewes milk and each farmer has his own special recipe for creating this delicious soft yellow curd cheese.
The coloured fruits of summer and autumn are made into sweet jams and fruit-filled pastries know as croustades, there’s apple and rum cake and in Mas-d’Azil in early October the locals celebrate the Fete de la Figue (fig). Wine was made locally until the Pylloxera disease of the 1800s and recently production has begun again. Hypocras, a spiced red wine with honey and ginger, has been drunk in Ariege since the Middle Ages.
Markets are a great place to look for local produce. Saint-Girons has one of the best markets in south west France on Saturday mornings and each second and fourth Monday in the month as well as specialised markets for flowers and horses at other times.