Having been to the Etel Tuna Museum and learnt about how the fish are been caught, the next question is what to do with it. Whilst it’s lovely to indulge in fish and seafood every day, and despite the best efforts of transport systems to maximise distribution there are limits on the achievable. Of course, the fish can be frozen, but there’s a lot to be said for canning, and of course before the invention of refrigerated transport it was an important method of preservation.
To understand the process a little better, we popped into La Belle Iloise cannery, in Quiberon. Sadly, we were too early in the year; neither sardines nor tuna had made it far enough up the coast, so the factory was at tick over rather than in full flow. As a working cannery, the visit takes the form of watching proceedings from an enclosed balcony, and exploring a couple of rooms of historic canning machinery and dioramas illustrating fishing and canning. Tours are taken at specific times, so if you do want to visit, it’s a good plan to check for timings.
The big surprise for me was discovering that sardines are deep fried before being canned. I had always imagined for some reason that they were cooked in the sealed can as part of the sterilisation process, but no; fried first, then canned. The cannery produces an amazing range of products, and unsurprisingly, there’s a shop on site. Having visited the factory, we then started to notice their shops everywhere we went. Deciding what to buy was a minor quandary – not only is the fish delicious, but the cans are beautiful and would make great presents – we could have walked out with one of everything, which wouldn’t have left much room in the car for us.
Touring a canning factory isn’t quite as nice as sitting in a cafe eating said seafood, but you can’t do that all day, every day, so if you’re looking for a short break from the beach (or, dare I say it, it’s raining), or are as geeky about food as we are, then dropping into the tuna museum or Belle Iloise is a really interesting way of spending a couple of hours.
La Belle Iloise cannery
The cannery is in on Rue des Confiseurs, Quiberon, Brittany, in the zone d’activités Plein Ouest.
Out of season – from All Saints’ Day holiday to 31 March.
Tuesday to Friday, 2 tours a day, 11am and 3pm.
Closed Saturday, Sunday and Monday
Mid season – 1st April to 30 June and 1st September to the end of the All Saints’ Day holiday.
Monday to Friday, 4 tours a day: 10 and 11 am, 3 and 4pm.
Saturday, 2 tours: 11am and 3pm.
High season – 1st July to 31st August
Monday to Friday: tours at 10.30 and 11.30 am, 2.30, 3.30, 4.30 and 5.30 pm.
Saturday: tours at 10.30 and 11.30 am, 2.30, 3.30 and 4.30pm.
Entrance is free – our tour was in French. La Belle Iloise cannery
It is a bit of a foodcentric industrial estate – opposite is the factory shop for la Maison d’Armorine, makers of Salidou salt caramels; where you can watch them being made and look at some vintage caramel machines. Next door is the factory shop for Le Cour d’Orgères artisan jam, both worth a visit whist you are waiting for your cannery tour.
We also recommend a visit to the Biscuiterie La Trinitaine, a short distance away near La Trinité-sur-Mer – a factory with a huge shop with every Breton biscuit and decorative tins you could ever want to give as a present, as well as a huge selection of other regional specialities. Cafe and bakery on site – untested by us.
Biscuiterie La Trinitaine
We also have a handy shopping guide on what to buy in a French supermarket to bring home.