Hard times at the 2015 Cochon de Lait Festival in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana.

Avoyelles Parish Inmate

Avoyelles Parish Inmate

When we began plotting a trip to Mansura for the big pig party that started way back in 1960, we were rightly excited. Avoyelles Parish marks the northernmost boundary of Acadiana but we reckoned that the eating would still be as good as though we were deep in the heart of Cajun Country.

Mansura Louisiana Town Hall

Mansura Louisiana Town Hall

We were wrong.

Open Air Barbecue Pit In Mansura Louisiana

Open Air Barbecue Pit In Mansura Louisiana

The promoters for the event trumpeted that the “Grand Feast” would begin Sunday morning.

Barbecue Fire Wood In Mansura Louisiana

Barbecue Fire Wood In Mansura Louisiana

When Cajun folks use the word grand and feast in the same sentence you can rest assured you will be dining in the stratosphere of rural folk cuisine.

A Cadre Of Avoyelles Parish Inmates

A Cadre Of Avoyelles Parish Inmates

Wrong again.

The Best Barbecue In Avoyelles Parish

The Best Barbecue In Avoyelles Parish

Stepping onto the grounds of the Cochon de Lait Festival on Sunday morning something seems amiss. There are no people bustling about and the event has the forlorn air of a party that has let out early with everybody leaving in handcuffs or in the backs of ambulances.

Detritus From The 2015 Cochon de Lait Festival

Detritus From The 2015 Cochon de Lait Festival

A team of inmates in matching red jail garb is halfheartedly sweeping the blacktop parking lot, complaining bitterly all the while. None of them looks capable of making a break for it so we amble inside after paying the $8 cover for a “Grand Feast”

Boudin And Cracklins In Avoyelles Parish

Boudin And Cracklins In Avoyelles Parish

The Feasting Hall is desolate.

The Grand Feast At 2015 Cochon de Lait In Mansura Louisiana

The Grand Feast At 2015 Cochon de Lait In Mansura Louisiana

A few old timers are sitting at a folding table with a stack of styrofoam boxes careered across it. “How many?” one of them barks. I hold up a single ticket, am handed a good, hefty box and begin looking for a place to sit.

Pork Barbecue In Mansura Louisiana

Pork Barbecue In Mansura Louisiana

Clearly a big crowd is not expected as the tables are all mashed together in the middle of the room to create a continent of plastic and wooden-laminate. The floors are sticky with dried up Pepsi, the tables have gnarled debris of pork stuck to them and more prisoners are languishing about, casting worried glances toward the old white men who are in charge of their weal.

Inside The 2015 Cochon de Lait Festival

Inside The 2015 Cochon de Lait Festival

Grief is in the air.

Avoyelles Parish Inmates

Avoyelles Parish Inmates

Cracking into the box, a good smell of wood smoke wafts upward. A charred hunk of pig hide is straddling a few tendrils of dried out pork; a naked bone of unknown provenance has been stabbed into a pile of dirty rice; a foil wrapped sweet potato rides shotgun, and a small cup of coleslaw sits off to the side.

A Ray Bradbury Scene In Mansura Louisiana

A Ray Bradbury Scene In Mansura Louisiana

The effect doesn’t so much say Grand Feast as “we’re all on our last legs here and we’ll probably be dead before the final tourist leaves town”

Blue Skies At The 2015 Cochon de Lait Festival

Blue Skies At The 2015 Cochon de Lait Festival

Desultory.

A Teenager In Mansura Louisiana

A Teenager In Mansura Louisiana

The meat (it’s not cochon de lait, this hog has been off the teat since Eisenhower was in office) is tough, dry, smokey, and largely inedible. The room temperature coleslaw is syrupy sweet with nary a hint of acid to cut through the treacle. On the bright side, the sweet potato is quite good. Yes, $8 for a sweet potato is a mite pricey but we’re optimists at heart.

Avoyelles Parish Louisiana

Avoyelles Parish Louisiana

The backstory of the Cochon de Lait Festival is a good one. The partying had gotten so hard a dozen years into the run that local law enforcement shut it down. One internet scribe (this one) described the old days thusly: “At one point the Cajuns attending the party had gone native and gotten so wild and wooly what with all the drugs, dancing, rampant pork consumption and public sex that the city put a halt to the celebration for almost two decades.”

Mansura Louisiana Fire Department

Mansura Louisiana Fire Department

It’s time for the reigning body to do just that once again. Shut it down. And if they can’t afford to lose the revenue then please run down around Broussard somewhere and find a wiry pack of cochon de lait experts, offer ’em a few cases of beer and all the barbecue they can eat and hire them to take over the hard part; the cooking of the barbecue, cause whoever’s in charge right now is plumb tuckered.

Easter Finery On Display In Mansura Louisiana

Easter Finery On Display In Mansura Louisiana

1832 Leglise Street
Mansura, LA
71350

  1. Dear RL Reeves Jr,
    I just wanted to personally thank you for the wonderful blog you wrote about the Cochon De Lait Festival that you attended in May. Reading the blog I realized that you get how hard it is for a rural town like Mansura to put on a 4 day festival and how much time and work goes into the preparation. We have some many resources and funds to make the Cochon De Lait Festival successful.
    Sorry, that you could only make the trip on Sunday. I wish your scribe would have told you about the fun, good food and great entertainment that take place on Friday and Saturday.
    Thank you for promoting the Cochon De Lait Festival and see ya next year in Mansura, La!
    P.s. We also have lots of other festivals in Avoyelles Parish that you should check out!

  2. Dear RL Reeves Jr,
    I just wanted to personally thank you for the wonderful blog you wrote about the Cochon De Lait Festival that you attended in May. Reading the blog I realized that you get how hard it is for a rural town like Mansura to put on a 4 day festival and how much time and work goes into the preparation. We have some many resources and funds to make the Cochon De Lait Festival successful.
    Sorry, that you could only make the trip on Sunday. I wish your scribe would have told you about the fun, good food and great entertainment that take place on Friday and Saturday.
    Thank you for promoting the Cochon De Lait Festival and see ya next year in Mansura, La!
    P.s. We also have lots of other festivals in Avoyelles Parish that you should check out!

  3. Danielle Viguerie says:

    I’m from New Orleans and have attended just about every festival in the city, which is quite a feat! I wholly disagree with your commentary on the Cochon de Lait. The food is out of this world. Sorry that you chose to arrive on day 4 of a 4 day festival in a small town (Allison above is spot on). I could dig out some photos from when I was there a few years ago and there were SO MANY pigs being cooked. Gino Delafosse played. I danced with the nicest locals. It was a wonderful experience.
    I realize that anyone can write a blog and there is ZERO accountability. But for whatever kind of journalistic integrity exists in the blogosphere, you should at the very least check your condescension. It is unappetizing.

    • Danielle,
      Thanks for the feedback. Were you there on the Sunday of the Grand Feast? It was exactly as I described. Pitiable. We chose Sunday because it was the day of the Grand Feast, you know if you use that kind of phrase in Acadiana what that means right? It means the cooks pull out all the stops and put out a meal so good that you very well may move to Houma, New Iberia, Mansura or any other place in Louisiana that cooks at that level and self describes their event in that way. If you look back at my Field Reports from other festivals you will see the good the bad and the ugly of the foods put out. For the record, most food festivals in our state are mind-blowingly delicious. The Cochon de Lait was not. RL Reeves Jr

  4. Danielle Viguerie says:

    I’m from New Orleans and have attended just about every festival in the city, which is quite a feat! I wholly disagree with your commentary on the Cochon de Lait. The food is out of this world. Sorry that you chose to arrive on day 4 of a 4 day festival in a small town (Allison above is spot on). I could dig out some photos from when I was there a few years ago and there were SO MANY pigs being cooked. Gino Delafosse played. I danced with the nicest locals. It was a wonderful experience.
    I realize that anyone can write a blog and there is ZERO accountability. But for whatever kind of journalistic integrity exists in the blogosphere, you should at the very least check your condescension. It is unappetizing.

    • Danielle,
      Thanks for the feedback. Were you there on the Sunday of the Grand Feast? It was exactly as I described. Pitiable. We chose Sunday because it was the day of the Grand Feast, you know if you use that kind of phrase in Acadiana what that means right? It means the cooks pull out all the stops and put out a meal so good that you very well may move to Houma, New Iberia, Mansura or any other place in Louisiana that cooks at that level and self describes their event in that way. If you look back at my Field Reports from other festivals you will see the good the bad and the ugly of the foods put out. For the record, most food festivals in our state are mind-blowingly delicious. The Cochon de Lait was not. RL Reeves Jr

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