Les Caves de Marson by Matt Spence
The experience began with a jolting taxi ride along the country roads surrounding the medieval town of Saumur. I was with a woman whom I had not been dating long, We were still in the exciting period when we were trying to figure out who each other was. As we dashed down roads and swerved around blind corners, I was a bit concerned because the restaurant we were hurtling towards served a particular type of food that I wasn't sure she would enjoy. One of the aspects of her personality that I had become aware of was that she was a picky eater.
The restaurant wasn't obvious to tourists. It lay several kilometers outside of the town limits and down a narrow gravel road almost obscured by a heavy canopy of thick trees. I had been there once before with some friends—a group of semi–inebriated French twenty–somethings who thought nothing of having a few drinks before zooming off into the night in search of supper. Perhaps it was the speed at which my friends drove to the restaurant, or maybe it was my suspicion that we might not actually make it to this place in one piece that made my first visit seem much quicker in my mind. Whatever the reason, the ride to the restaurant with my date seemed to take almost an hour. I was beginning to suspect that the cab driver was taking us on a tour of the countryside when the aging Renault suddenly lurched and scrambled up the road to Les Caves de Marson.
As we opened a heavy wooden door, we were greeted by a swell of noise and warmth. Scents of wood smoke and baking bread hung high along the ceiling. The cave went straight back into the cliff like a tunnel with only one opening. Long tables ran along its length and the people at these sat on low benches rather than chairs. Bunches of candles flickered in shallow recesses in the rock walls and bathed the long room in a cheery yellow light which seemed as old as the cave. Most remarkable was the open wood burning oven which had been bored into the side of the cave near the entrance. Its opening was about a yard wide, and a broad shelf, also carved from the stone, was a few inches beneath Tending the oven was a solid-looking woman with gray hair. Her apron was covered with flour dust as were her hands and arms. She caught me staring and smiled warmly.
The cloth was warm and, as it was pulled back, a cloud of steam rose. The wonderful, heady scent of fresh bread clouded the air around us. In the basket were several, hand-sized, oblong puffed rolls which were too hot to hold--fresh from the oven near the entrance. We peeked at the neighboring tables for clues as to how to start, and understood that the rolls, or fouees, were hollow and were to be stuffed with the other ingredients on the table. I looked suspiciously at the bowl of fat.
Fouees just emerging from the oven. Photo courtesy of Les Caves de Marson.