This week on Instagram I’m doing a virtual holiday where each day I’m sharing a memory of the time I’ve been lucky enough to spend in the Loire region of France over the years accompanied by a suggestion or prompt that people can use to join in. I’ve been thinking recently about how the current pandemic has really messed with people’s summer plans on top of all the income and health uncertainties a lot of people are facing, so I thought why not pull together some photographs from the archives and see if I can create a bit of cheerfulness? You can see what we’ve been up to over on my Instagram grid if you like.
Yesterday, I posted some memories from visiting the quaint village of Crissay-sur-Manse, officially one of the “most beautiful villages of France”, with its beautiful white limestone cottages, ruins of an old chateau and flowers lining the small, winding streets. The most prominent and striking of those flowers is the hollyhock which seems to grow everywhere despite the dry weather the region gets in the height of summer. The village is always quiet and peaceful, with lovely views out over sunflower fields and farms.
Crissay is a favourite place of mine to visit not just for its picturesque streets and views, but for the local producers of Sainte-Maure-style goat’s cheese and local honey. The shop at the Ferme de la Biquette or goat farm just west of the village sells their range of homemade goat’s cheese as well as other local produce such as rillettes, pâté and preserves. They sell a few difference cheese products, but my favourites are their logs of demi-sec (meaning semi-dry), but beautifully creamy cheese which is rolled around a piece of straw and coated with wood ash. It’s well worth the visit every time, and we have bought a honey there produced in the nearby town of St Epain called “de Fleurs d’été” meaning “summer flowers”. I can honestly say it’s the most delicious, intoxicatingly floral honey I have ever had the pleasure to eat. The local products are celebrated in the menu at the Auberge in the village whose salads are to die for and you can dine overlooking the gorgeous views.
Hollyhocks are one of my favourite flowers to see in the garden in summer. Their tall, elegant stems reaching for the sky and bursting with colourful blooms can’t help but put a smile on my face. The fact that they’re edible is a welcome bonus! A little goes a long way when using hollyhocks as a garnish as the flowers a sizeable and vibrant in colour. The flavour is mild, but the petals have a lovely fresh crunch and the size of the flowers makes them quite a versatile edible flower. I’ve seen recipes that use them as a vehicle for soft cheeses as you can use the whole flower as a neat, colourful wrapper. They’re easy to identify from their height and the size and shape of their flowers – just make sure you know how to differentiate them from the deadly foxglove which has very different flowers, but is also a tall, spear-like plant with pink/purple blooms.
Needless to say that the produce and surroundings of Crissay were the inspiration for this appetiser dish. These little toasts topped with a creamy round of Sainte-Maure de Touraine cheese, sprinkled with some herbes de Provence and lightly drizzled with honey make a great light lunch, snack or aperitif. Given the abundance of hollyhocks in Crissay, they had to make an appearance too and they provide the perfect garnish and a little hint of garden freshness. (I’m not usually one for an overload of pink, but I couldn’t resist serving my toasts on this fabulous vintage platter!)
Goat’s Cheese Toasts with Honey & Hollyhock Petals
- Goat’s cheese such as Sainte-Maure de Touraine
- Herbes de Provence (a blend of dried savory, rosemary, thyme, marjoram and oregano)
- Hollyhock petals
- Slice the baguette to a thickness of about 1-1.5cm and top with sliced rounds of goat’s cheese, sprinkle with the herbs and drizzle with honey.
- Place your toasts on a wire rack and heat under the grill for about 5 minutes or until golden, but not burnt.
- Top each toast with half a hollyhock petal and serve warm.
Let me know if you try this recipe by commenting below or tagging me on Instagram @plotandlane – I love seeing your creations. Also, do join me this week while I take us on a virtual holiday!
Subscribe to the Plot & Lane newsletter
If you would like to get some seasonal recipes and general inspiration for living more seasonally, growing your own and foraging, do sign up to my monthly newsletters using the box below.