Roussillon red apricot
Treasure of the South
Its culture is as confidential as its extraordinary flavor.
The Roussillon red is the only apricot to benefit
of a PDO in France. Here are the secrets of this sweet little treasure.
Text by Marine Couturier
From field to plate
Sun, wind and what it takes to know how: for more than ten centuries, the apricot has found a favorite terroir in the vast natural amphitheater of the Roussillon plain, where orchards line the roads as far as the eye can see of sight. Harvest season is in full swing and the temptation to stop by to pick one of these sugar-filled treats is strong. Here, its culture developed at the beginning of the 19th century, the Pyrénées-Orientales being the first producing department in France in the early 1970s. For this endemic fruit, the consecration came in 2015 with the obtaining of the AOC red apricots from Roussillon, transformed the following year into AOP. From the edge of the Mediterranean to the foothills of Canigou, 450 meters above sea level, the geographical area of the appellation includes 100 municipalities in the department.
Sun and sweetness
It is in that of Claira, north-east of Perpignan, that Henri Berga, son and grandson of winegrowers, bought his first orchards about thirty years ago. A few years later, his brother François added two additional hectares, leaving him to run the business – helping out in the fields if necessary. Le Bougariu, named after the stream that adjoins the property, is a small family EURL of seven hectares of apricot trees, two of which meet the requirements of the AOP. “ The location is ideal, in the alluvial plain of La Salanque, a few kilometers from the sea, where the risk of frost is rather low. The apricot needs sunshine and the mild maritime influence to develop, without too much water. But this year, the lack was really glaring”, laments François Berga. In the spring, the watering was only thirty minutes every two days, instead of the usual two hours daily. As a result, the fruits remained small and had a harder time selling to the cooperative.
Four varieties in the PDO
To benefit from the PDO, the Roussillon red apricot must comply with a very specific charter. Variety is one of these criteria, only four of which can benefit from the appellation. The history is the red of Roussillon, which in the 1970s represented more than two thirds of the cultivated areas in the Pyrénées-Orientales. Despite its very sweet good taste with its hint of acidity, which works wonders in jam, this variety was for a time shunned by consumers because of its small size, lack of crunch and juice. Inra then selected three others from this first: Héléna du Roussillon, Royal Roussillon and Gâterie. All have similar and specific organoleptic characteristics: an orange background color with bright red dots, a rather small size, intense aromas of fresh fruit, a sweet flavor and a supple texture. On their AOP farm, the Berga brothers have chosen to produce only Héléna and Royal, in equal parts: “These two varieties have the advantage of having fruits of a slightly larger caliber, and as they do not ripen at the same time, this allows us to spread the harvest over a good month”, specifies François.
Manual harvesting and grading
Since mid-June, the harvest has started in Bougariu. Early in the morning, to avoid the crushing heat, teams of pickers take over the orchards, going from apricot tree to apricot tree to carefully monitor the ripeness of the fruits and pick those that need it, under the watchful eye of François Berga, who also takes part in collective effort. “We’re starting with the Royal variety, which is the first to be ready. The ripest fruits are intended for direct sale on the farm, while those that go to the cooperative have a lower degree of maturity, as they must be able to be kept for between eight and ten days. In general, four passes over each tree in the orchard are necessary to pick up all the fruit. In this small farm, the calibration of those sold on site is then done by hand, within hours of picking, the seasonal workers having experience of the product. However, most of the production is intended for the cooperative and the apricots are stored in a small cold room while awaiting their departure inland. However, this organization is not automatic, the vagaries of the climate coming, in some years, to upset the well-established organization of Catalan producers, as the co-owner of Bougariu explains: “ Last year, the heavy rains in March and the frost in April caused the harvest to fall. It was so small that nothing left for the cooperative and everything was for sale on the spot. »
A royal jam
In a few days and until around July 20, it will be the turn of the Héléna apricot to be picked, slightly paler than the Royal. In the meantime, many buyers, regulars and passing tourists, are already stopping off at the little cabin a stone’s throw from the orchards to leave with a few Roussillon apricots. Some, coming from the Toulouse and Montpellier region, do not hesitate to travel several hundred kilometers to get some and leave with the chest full of pretty orange spheres. “Many seek this fruit to cook it in jam, and it is not necessary to turn to downgraded products for this, even if they are offered. You have to get away from the idea that this type of transformation is done with the fruits that risk being spoiled. A good jam is first and foremost made from quality fruit,” argues François Berga. The man knows what he’s talking about: with his wife, he makes about forty kilos of jam a year for their personal consumption, but also family and friends. Their preference goes to the Héléna variety, which is less acidic and sweeter than the Royal, but the orchard owner assures him, “ it’s all just a matter of taste ”. As for the fruits that have been sent to the cooperative, a large part is intended for processing, because marketing as a fresh product on the industrial market is still very confidential. It exists however, the producers of the young AOP making every effort to ensure that it is present throughout France. The apricots are easily recognized by the mention of the AOP red apricots from Roussillon on the trays and crates, but you have to act quickly: once mid-July is over, it is already almost too late to get this little sweetness.
“ A good jam is above all made from quality fruit ”
At Bougariu, we do not hesitate to bite into one or two apricots picked directly from the tree. But for even more indulgence, put on your apron to follow one of Mamy Gaby’s recipes. There is of course the excellent jam made with 3 kg of very ripe apricots for 2 kg of crystal sugar, but, for a little more crunch, we launch into an apricot and almond tart which works wonders for dessert. . To vary from the traditional cherry clafoutis, we opt for an apricot version, terribly melting! If you want a quick return to childhood, the yogurt and apricot cake is perfect, when you don’t hesitate to try another cake, but with salted butter, this one, if you have large apricots cut into halves. So what is your choice?
Roussillon red is the star product of the Bougariu estate, cultivated for thirty years by Henri Berga.
- HARVEST FROM MID-JUNE TO END OF JULY
- RECOGNIZED BY AN AOC IN 2015 AND AN AOP IN 2016
- RICH IN FIBER, POTASSIUM, VITAMIN C AND BETA-CAROTENE
- 4 VARIETIES: ROUGE DU ROUSSILLON, HÉLÉNA DU ROUSSILLON, ROYAL DU ROUSSILLON AND GATERIE