New Harvest expected in January, 2012
1 pound bag (re-pack for a convenient price) - Label Rouge - dried beans - France (DOC)
One of the special qualities of the Tarbais bean is that it doesn't fall apart when reheated, while managing to maintain a nice melt-in-your-mouth (not too hard, not too soft) texture. This also makes them perfect for bean salads, and any soup or casserole that calls for white beans. It is also the classic ingredient of that French classic, Cassoulet.
The cost of production is high and the supply is limited every year, and yet the demand only continues to grow. Why? Because each succeeding generation comes to realize that Tarbais is the preeminent bean for the dishes they grew up with. They have a balanced flavor, a thin skin, and a sweet, almost buttery flesh that are prized by all that tastes them.
Traditional recipes include garbure and cassoulet, but many chefs are also pairing them with fish, in a seafood cassoulet with cod or tuna.
The history of the Tarbais
In the early 1700s, the bishop of Tarbes - a town located in the foothills of the French Pyrénées - had the chance to witness the cultivation of crops from the New World while on an extended stay in Spain. He was quite taken with maize and the many varieties of kidney beans. Upon his return from Spain in 1712, he decided to introduce this bean in the Adour valley: the beautiful river originates in the Pyrénées, flows through Tarbes and ends its run in the Atlantic ocean near Bayonne.
The local farmers adopted the tasty crops with much enthusiasm in the plain of Tarbes. The bean that became most popular looked like a cross between a lima and a white kidney bean - it is flatter and shorter than a kidney bean and yet not as wide as a lima - and has been known forever since as the Tarbais bean.
Traditionally, the Tarbais bean grows jointly with corn: because the Tarbais bean is a climbing variety, farmers would seed one bean and one corn kernel side by side so that the bean would use the corn stalk as a stake.
The arrival of intensive farming - hybrid corn varieties, machine harvesting - in the 1960s almost wiped out the production of the famous bean of Tarbes; it seems few had time for a bean that was harvested by hand. Fortunately, the precious seeds were not completely lost and got transferred from one generation's bean patch to the next.
During the 1980s, a handful of farmers decided to jump-start the traditional production of the Tarbais on a larger scale in the terroir it liked best. The Tarbais is still harvested by hand, only when they are at their peak ripeness. This labor-intensive process is the only way to insure the quality of the final product.
All the hard work has paid off: the "Label Rouge" was granted to the Tarbais in 1996, the first time the coveted recognition was awarded to a bean. It also benefits from an IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée), which specifies the exact area where it can be cultivated, essentially on the Adour plain of the Hautes-Pyrénées department.