Wednesday, July 4, 2012

June 28-29, 2012: To the Jura!

Thursday and Friday were spent in the Jura, which is in the North East of France. When we arrived, we first stopped at the Salins les Bains, which has extracted salt from the water underground since the Middle Ages. Up until 1962, they produced salt, or “white gold,” which made the Jura prosperous and famous during the Middle Ages. Its closure in 1962 was caused due to competition with other salt makers, in addition to the invention of refrigerators. Since preservation due to salt was not needed as much as it was before refrigerators, salt was not in such high of a demand. However, this salt mine is now a museum, which people can visit. Additionally, they still use the brine to make delicacies such as Sel caramels.

After our visit, we went and had lunch at Le Petit Blanc. Before even arriving to the Jura, I was excited to visit it, since it’s famous for making Morbier cheese. I have enjoyed Morbier cheese since I was a little girl, because my dad would often buy it to make raclette, which is basically melted cheese over toasted bread.  I have enjoyed that dish so many times, and it is a family tradition for my dad to make it when the weather gets colder. Since I was in the region famous for Morbier cheese, I had to get the Morbiflette. It’s basically Morbier cheese, onions, bacon, and potatoes mixed together and baked. Even though it sounds so simple, out of everything I ate in France, this was, hands down, the best dish I ate.

We then arrived in Arbois to visit the Pasteur's vineyard, and then his house! It was such a great experience after learning about his experiments to see the place where they actually happened. We got to see his swan neck flasks, which were used to disprove spontaneous generation, which contributed greatly to the field of microbiology.

Afterwards, we went to Taverne La Finette, where we sampled Jura Specialties. It was very, very different than the food in Burgundy, and we also sampled some Jurassic wines. Since the soil and terroir is very different than Burgundy, the wines also are very different. I have to admit, I do like the Burgundy wines better; however, it was definitely very exciting to sample new wines and see how they compare.

On Friday, we visited the fruitiére de Grande Riviére to watch them make Comté cheese!

 Stirring the curd in copper vats. Copper vats transfer heat more efficiently, and heating the milk to a certain temperature helps the rennet coagulate the milk into curds and whey!
 Putting the curds into the molds. The silver part is actually a sieve, where whey can drain out.

The curds are in their molds!

 Catherine Healy talking to one of the cheesemakers
 Me with aging Comte. So much cheese!

We then drove to the Jura Mountains, and eventually to Fort des Rousses, which is a 19th century military fort. This fort has been converted into a cheese aging cellar, with 40,000 Comte cheeses! Immediately when we went in, the smell of aging cheese and ammonia was definitely present. We learned how cheeses such as Comte and Morbier are made. However, throughout the tour, my nose was definitely tickled by this scent, and, when we made it to the cellar, the scent was quite overpowering. My eyes began to actually water from the ammonia released by the cheeses! After visiting the aging cheeses, we got to sample cheeses from 6 months, 12 months, and 18 months. It was amazing to see how not only the aging process affects the texture and taste of the cheese, but also whether it is made from summer’s milk or winter’s milk. When it’s made with summer’s milk, the cow can graze on more flowers and grass, and because of this, the milk is sweeter and has a more yellow color. However, with winter milk, it has a milder flavor and whiter color because it feeds on hay. My favorite one was the 12 month aged Comte, which was made with summer's milk.

 Even more cheese!

The tasting. From left to right: 18 month, 12 month, and 6 month aged Comte. You can see how the 12 month's cheese is definitely more yellow than the others!

Overall, our excursion to the Jura was one that I will never forget. It was definitely great to experience the wines and cheeses in a different region in France and expand my knowledge of the food that is available there, along with its amazing culture.

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