Provencal Traditions and 8 Lamb Recipes to Try
Raising sheep and goats has been part of the fabric of life in Provence for centuries. Before grocery stores, small animal husbandry was necessary for nutrition and is the basis for traditional recipes. We highlight eight (8) of these dishes further down in this article.
In a landscape that changes rapidly from seaside to mountain peaks with little flat land, animals are still raised for their meat and milk. Driving around Provence today in areas such as the Crau south of the Alpilles, you see large arid fields, but that was not always the case. The Durance and Rhône Rivers historically flooded their banks many times, even after the construction of dams and flood control channels.
Transhumance and Traditions
Transhumance is the seasonal movement of animals during the spring and fall to better pasture lands. The relocation takes advantage of more favourable temperatures during the hot and cold months. You can read more about it here. The word transhumance comes from Latin roots, trans (across) and humus (ground). Although trucks have replaced long days of walking the movement of flocks still occurs twice a year.
Today many towns have turned the traditional transhumance into a festive event for a crowd. In Provence, these events typically take place in May-June, Christmas Eve, and the last Sunday in January. The May-June events occur around the Monday of Pentecôte (Whit Monday) and are full of activities centred around the animals.
On December 24th villagers in Allauch, a town in the southern Alps, participate in la Descente des Bergers after midnight mass. This annual event is a procession of residents dressed in 18th-century costumes and their flock of roughly 150 sheep.
On the last Sunday in January, the pastrage – the blessing of lambs – takes place in some village churches. The Messe des Bergers (Shepherds’ Mass) services are often followed by the distribution of navettes, sweet biscuits from the region. Navettes are the culinary representation of the modest boat believed to have transported St Lazarus and the Marys to the shores of the Camargue.
Lamb Recipes from Provence
Slow cooking meat allows the moist heat to soften the meat. This cooking technique results in tender meat with intense flavour. We have put together various slow-cooked lamb recipes below. We hope you try one or all of them. Enjoy!