The first known mention of black pudding, called boudin noir in French, dates back to 800 BC when Homer made mention of the dish in The Odyssey. While theories regarding its origins vary, some historians believe it was introduced by the Romans throughout Europe during their conquest. Others say it came from the Moors and note that the Spanish word for the dish, morcilla, is suspiciously close to Mortagne: the name of the town where the festival is held.
Mortagne-au-Perche is home to many masterful butchers specialised in crafting the region’s celebrated blood sausage. The group that puts on the Foire au Boudin, the Chevaliers du Goute-Boudin (in English: Knights of the Black Pudding), can be seen wandering around the festival in their red velvet robes and hats. As an organization, they vow to uphold the traditions involved in creating black pudding, as well as to consume it every day.
Though a controversial ‘love it or hate it’ type of food, boudin noir has long been a highly popular dish in France. While the Brits make their version with oats and the Spanish with rice, the French like to stick to a classic recipe, typically including some very finely chopped apple, as to not detract from the flavour provided by the pig’s blood.
The festival’s main highlight is a prize for the best black pudding, a contest that includes contenders from around the globe. There are food vendors set up offering free samples of the delicacy, as well as an eating contest for who can consume the most of the meat. Currently in its 54th year, the event’s goal is to highlight and embrace the tradition and know-how behind boudin noir rooted in Mortagne-au-Perche and to celebrate the local gastronomy. In addition to savouring black pudding in various forms among the locals, the medieval town’s cobblestoned streets lined with small shops and the picturesque countryside are reason enough to visit.
Black pudding aficionados can attend a few more events dedicated to the dish. Also in France, the apple and black pudding festival in Vigeois celebrates the complementing flavours of these two local specialties during a one-day event in November. In Northern Ireland, the Annual Fermanagh Black Pudding Festival sees chefs and butchers presenting black pudding in innovative ways and in Beasain, near San Sebastian, a black pudding festival is hosted annually in May. Perhaps the most bizarre (or intriguing, depending on your take) event dedicated to blood sausage is the Ramsbottom World Black Pudding Throwing Championships in Britain, where, you guessed it, contenders hurl black pudding at a pile of Yorkshire pudding.