1 - Seafood
With marine infused flavours from the coast, seafood takes pride of place on diners' plate, including sardines from Saint Gilles Croix de Vie and Vendée Atlantique oysters, not forgetting "sablaise" sole, bass and shellfish.
Coastal fishing in the Vendée
The 250 km coastline offers a safe breeding ground for many different species making the Vendée a strong fishing area. Types of fish associated with the department include monkfish, turbot, hake, whiting, "sablaise" sole, red mullet, pollack, dogfish, mackerel, tuna, sea bass and the famous Saint Gilles Croix de Vie sardines. The Vendéen coast also produces a wide range of shellfish: shrimps and prawns, langoustines, spider crabs, Dungeness crab, swimming crabs and the divine blue lobster. The most common large molluscs found in Vendéen waters are squid and cuttlefish.
Vendée Atlantique Oysters
In the 1950s oyster farms became established along the Vendéen coastline, south of the Loire. The unique features of the area were what attracted them, namely the number of marshes and the favourable climatic conditions for farming oysters. Three basins (The Bay of Bourgneuf - Noirmoutier, Talmont Saint Hilaire and the Bay of Aiguillon) became key oyster-farming centres. Over an area of almost 80 km, 10,000 tonnes of oysters are produced every year.
Sardines from Saint Gilles Croix de Vie
Saint Gilles Croix de Vie is a charming seaside town and also the largest Atlantic sardine fishing port. Each year over 2,500 tonnes of sardines are landed at the port to be conserved. In 2000, Saint Gilles Croix de Vie sardines were awarded the red label, the first wild fish to receive such an honour. Sardine fishing off the coast of Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie dates back to the early 17th century. The locals quickly learned how to preserve this small fish so it could be stored for a longer period of time. This led to the emergence of the now-famous canned sardines in oil!
The Bay of Aiguillon is a centre for shellfish farming but it owes its reputation to Bouchot mussels (farmed on oak pilings sunk into the water). Apparently dating back to the 13th century, these pilings are said to be the oldest in the world. These small yet generously proportioned mussels are an attractive yellow colour, with a dark black and relatively hard shell. They are known for their pronounced flavour. Vendée offers many different ways to enjoy this exceptional shellfish. But the emphasis is always on simplicity, since the product is of such excellent quality in its own right.
Sole from Les Sables-d'Olonne, also known as Sablaise, is a flat fish that lives off the Vendée coast. On the plate, the low-fat, white, firm flesh of the Les Sables-d'Olonne sole is cooked in fillets, or can also be enjoyed whole, "meunière" style, coated in flour, with butter and lemon juice.
White gold and the Vendée salt marshes
Here, they call it white gold! On the Atlantic coast, the salt marshes are still being put to good use, traditional methods are employed to obtain fine fleur du sel and sea salt, from the island of Noirmoutier, to the Marais Breton, in Vie or in Olonne, and even in Talmondais. The principal of a salt marsh is simple, the correct climatic and geological conditions are needed to achieve maximum saturation of sodium chloride in the sea water. The harvesting period is from May to September. Salt or "white gold" is gathered at the edge of the salt pans using a large flat wooden rake called a "simoussi".