For our first road trip since quarantine restrictions began lifting here, we took a brief trip to the coast and had one of the most unique culinary experiences of our lives. We visited the just-offshore island of Noirmoutier, home of the world’s rarest, most unusual and expensive potato, the legendary Pommes de Mer.
Unique in all the world, these small, perfectly round potatoes grow under water in the shallows surrounding the island. As they mature they break away from their stems and, moved by the tides, roll along the sandy bottom, until they are a perfectly round shape. The locals call them roule. As they ripen they begin to rise a bit from the bottom, and in the final two weeks of June each year, there is a frenzy of activity on the island.
This is when the world famous Potato Trappers of Bretagne go to work. Sticking strictly to the traditional method of trapping with a hand-made mensonge, these hardy trappers, les menteurs, work furiously to catch the potatoes before the can roll out to sea with the tides, never to be seen again.
It is a hard life for them. For eleven and a half months they wait in a stupor of petanque and Pineau de Charente, then burst into no more than two weeks of frenetic activity. Sadly, it is one more wonderful tradition that is dying away, as fewer and fewer sons of watermen choose to follow in their fathers’ career footsteps, lured away to the mainland instead by the excitement of a resurgent aluminum siding industry.
We were uncommonly fortunate to experience the delights of these pré-salé delicacies when we chanced upon a small local restaurant serving the roule in the most traditional manner, accompanied by filet of locally caught ocean fish, called rocque by the locals.
I know, it’s only rocque and roule, but I like it.