For roughly 18 years, Madeleine Vedel (an American from New York and Michigan) and her husband Erick (a French chef from Arles) ran a successful company in Provence, offering culinary and wine tours, cooking classes and B&B stays.
While Erick led the cooking classes, Madeleine took clients all over the region, happily introducing them to her favorite ingredients, dishes and wines….and all the hard-working folks who produce them.
Somewhere along the way, Madeleine and Erick split up, but they continue to collaborate, helping each other and “working together to each other’s strengths.” They have two sons: Leo, 17, and Jonas, 12.
In 2012, Madeleine and the boys took a two-year hiatus from France so she could help launch a sustainable goat farm and goat cheese creamery in Northern Michigan (Idyll Farms in Northport). And now that that chapter is coming to a close, she’s returning to Provence for January and February, to lead three special winter food tours.
Designed to take advantage of cooler temps, quieter villages and that favorite Provencal winter past-time--feasting by the fireplace--the winter trips will include truffle hunts, Châteauneuf-du-Papes wine tasting, chocolate visits, market tours and the chance to make your own fresh foie gras, duck confit and smoked duck breast (aka magret).
“It's been a glorious two years bringing Idyll Farms into being,” Madeleine explains. “The herd of goats is over 100 strong: beautiful, healthy and producing excellent milk. We’ve won three national awards for our cheeses…and I’m so proud! I hired and trained an excellent team… I've done what I set out to do… and now it's time to look towards the future and new projects.”
In addition to the activities mentioned above, the winter getaways in Provence will include glorious meals in some of the region’s best restaurants, hikes amidst the flowering almond trees (yes, they normally flower in late January) and much more. Along the way you’ll pop in to meet some of Madeleine’s great old pals such as the beekeeper, the baker, the cheese maker and the potter.
“Erick will join us and bring along the moulard ducks,” Madeleine continues. “I bow to his skill with the foie, the duck confit and the smoked duck breast. No doubt he'll also render the fat, fry up some amazing potatoes, and treat us all with some duck cracklings as we sip our Châteauneuf. He's been known to do things like that…”
Each trip will have just eight slots. The first is January 14-21, 2014 (Wednesday to Wednesday). The second is January 24-31 (Saturday to Saturday). The third will be February 8-15, a Sunday to a Sunday itinerary. For skiers, Madeleine suggests starting or beginning your trip in the Alps, a short and relatively easy drive from Provence.
For all the tour info, click here. For questions or to sign up for Madeleine’s email newsletter: email@example.com
Photos: (1) Madeleine with furry friends in Michigan and (2, 3) making goat cheese from the herd's milk. Sign up for her winter tour and you'll spend some time tasting in Châteauneuf-du-Papes (4), where the winter sunlight casts an exquisite glow. (5) You'll taste wine with Guy Bremond in his vaulted caves, which date to the 12th and 13th centuries. (6) You'll visit gorgeous Avignon, which was home to the Popes in the 14th century. (7, 8) You'll zip off to St. Remy to taste with Joël Durand, whose Alphabet des Saveurs chocolates are filled with a rich, velvety truffle-type ganache, and come in 32 flavors including Earl Grey, rosemary, cocoa bean and jasmine. (9, 10, 11) You'll visit a truffle market like this one at Richerenches, and taste truffles in a variety of products. You might even get to enjoy a truffled omelette at the village fête. (12) You'll taste goat cheese, of course, and almost certainly meet sweet goats!