Tarbais Tops For Beans

From late summer and into autumn, the arrival of the fresh French Tarbais bean is greeted with delight by diners. A culinary classic, these beans are the super-stars of the humble haricot family and available exclusively from the only small, closed cooperative allowed to use the name of Tarbais for their beans. Production is tightly regulated and all farmers in the co-op grow a single strain, Alaric.

Although they’ve been grown all over Europe since Christopher Colombus brought them over from South America, these delicious beans felt most at home in the sunny, dry climate of southwest France where they thrived – particularly in the Tarbais region in the foothills of the Pyrénées.

True Tarbais beans are identified as “Label Rouge” on the packaging so you know you’re getting a traditional product of outstanding quality. In fact, the Tarbais bean became the first bean to be given IGP status, all due to a handful of farmers – young and old – who formed the co-operative in the 1980s to protect the bean, which had declined in production since the 1950s due to increasingly mechanised farming.

A pole bean, Tarbais are planted alongside corn to support the giant beanstalks that can grow up to eight feet high. They are harvested entirely by hand and the cultivation is regulated and protected by the department of agriculture.

They are picked and sold fresh from the end of August until early September and then as semi-dry beans from the end of September – or as soon as they literally start to rattle in the pods! Tarbais beans can be served as a side dish or used in a traditional Gascon cassoulet, where these big sweet beans absorb and enhance every delicious flavour.

A taste of autumn at its finest.