The cultivation of the chestnut in the department Ardèche (South of France) began in the 9th century, when Benedictine monks planted the first chestnut trees. It spread throughout the whole region by the 15th century, where it remained a staple of the Ardèchoise diet until the 19th century. Chestnut trees were called “Bread trees” because their yield was higher than grain and wheat yield in this mountainous region.
The chestnut of Ardèche has been protected by a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin ) since 2006. Its area covers over half of the Ardèche department and involves more than 1,000 chestnut groves. The designation guarantees specific gustatory qualities of the chestnut. They have an established reputation, related on one hand to the soil, but also related to the use of traditional chestnut species from Ardèche as well as a strict adherence to the cultivation process. Moreover, the use of phytosanitary products is forbidden, which ensures natural and environmentally friendly cultivation processes.
Fresh chestnuts are harvested in the fall, between September 15 and November 15. Once the chestnuts are out of their shells and have fallen on the ground, the fruits are either picked manually or gathered with nets and vacuum cleaners. Once harvested, the chestnuts are separated by flotation in water and then sorted, sized and packaged before shipment. All production and processing operations are done in the PDO area, according to traditional methods.
A wide range of processed products (chestnut cream, marrons glacés, mashed chestnuts or chestnut jam) are made with the chestnut of Ardèche. For all these products, the origin of the raw product is key. Roasted chestnuts of Ardèche or chestnut soups are very popular snacks that you might find at the local markets in late fall or in the winter, but the chestnut is also utilized in many kinds of meat dishes such as roast beef, game, or poultry. It is also used in a wide range of desserts: cream is the most popular, but you can also flavor all kinds of cakes and crêpes with it.