Monday, September 12, 2005

A Three Day Tour Through the Franche-Comté

I have had a little love affair with the Franche-Comté region of France for many years now. For those of you that don't know this region of eastern France prepare yourselves for a culinary journey into an area that is as rich in culinary history as any place in France. The food is totally unique to France and the wines even more so. This will be a journey into the very heart of French cooking and wine making. Ask any French person....they will smile and tell you how wonderful this region is. The wines are quite uncommon, they have an almost Madeira like quality. The most famous wine of the region is Vin Jaune and a quick google search will tell you more than I could ever hope to.
So, fasten your seat belts…because we just came back from Belfort and Montbéliard in the northern section of the Franche-Comté and stocked up the larder with Bresse free-range chickens, fresh morel mushrooms and a dozen bottles of the Jura's finest wines. The batteries are charged in the camera and we are ready to go!
Where is the Jura and the Franche-Comté?
(Pronounced Frawnsh Com-tey)
Our meals drew their inspiration from all of the Franche-Comté region. The Franche-Comté is located in the eastern part of France, bordering Alsace to the north, Burgundy to the west, Rhone Alps to the south and Switzerland to the east. It is composed of four districts: The Jura, the Doubs, the Haut-Saone and Belfort.
As you will see the Franche-Comté is rich in culinary and wine making history as well as cultural tradition.

A map of the Franche-Comté

Day One:

Our first lunch of the tour is actually a very simple creation of my own using some of the traditional foods of the Franche-Comté; supremes of Bresse chicken baked with jambon seché that was smoked in fir wood and Comté cheese....crispy tempura battered morels and lentils all combine to create the typical flavors of the region. Note: the lentils are a bit of an import to the Franche-Comté but the flavors go together marvelously.
First let's start the lentils because they take the longest:
Nothing more than onions, bacon, white wine and lentils.

Cook onions and bacon until they start to brown a little.


Now add some wine to deglaze and reduce and add lentils and some water and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until the lentils are tender which depends on the kind of lentils you use. I suggest lentils from Puy. Just keep testing them and add more water if you need to.
The aroma these lentils produce is so beautiful and typically French.
Now on to the chicken...
Take two chicken breasts and pound them out to about a centimeter thick. Place them on a cookie sheet and cover with the ham and slices of Comté cheese.
About five or six minutes before you are ready to serve, pop them in to a hot oven until they are done.
The morels are very simple. Make a mixture of seasoned cornstarch and flour and mix with enough water to make a light batter. Dip the morels in the batter then drop them into the hot fat until they are lightly browned and crunchy.
Plate everything and serve with a white wine from the Jura, like Vin Jaune.
The nutty flavors of the morels and the cheese go perfectly with the wine. And the lentils and bacon add a delicious earthy-smokiness to the combination.
Dessert was simply a cheese course of aged Comté. Comté is certainly the most famous hard cheese of France and rightfully so. Nutty and rich it is delightful to eat after a meal but it also becomes soft and velvety when it is melted and it's pungent aroma will quickly convert you to the "religion of Comté"! The AOC region runs through the Jura mountains and starts as far south as St. Claude near Geneva and continues up to Montbéliard. On the left is a 3 year old Comté that literally flakes apart when it is cut, on the right is a two year old Comté. The 3 year old was much more concentrated and flavorful than the 2 year old.

As I have already mentioned, Arbois wines have a peculiar maderized quality which isn't to everyone's taste but they are very unique wines and have phenomenal aging potential. Arbois wines are very difficult to find outside of the region so if you happen to see a bottle do give it a try. Here are a few of the wines we drank during our tour: Arbois Rouge 1999 from Auguste Piroi 12.5% and an Arbois Pupillin Rouge 'Cuvée Générations' 1999 from Désiré Petit 12.5%.


Below are Chateau l'Etoile 'Cuvée des Ceps d'or' 2000 13.5% and a 1998 Vin Jaune from Maison du Vigneron 14.5%. We will use some of the Vin Jaune in the making of the Poularde aux Morilles.


Day Two:
Day two was less of a meal and more of a series of appetizers.
We decided to make a typical apero in the French style. From left to right are; toast points, pate de campagne and cornichons, confiture de groseilles, saucissons with hazelnuts and pickled onions and quail's eggs on sea salt, Comté cheese, grapes and of course, two of the famous Macvin wines.

A closer view:

The Macvin:
We served two bottles of Macvin with our apero.
What is remarkable is the difference between the color of the two Macvins, the yellowish cloudy one is a 2000 from La Maison du Vigneron in Lons-Le-Saunier and the darker one is an nonvintage from Fruitière Vinicole d'Arbois in Arbois. This is because there is a wide variety of grapes allowed to make Macvin both red and white may be used. On the slightly sweet side, Macvin is similar to a medium dry sherry. Both of our Macvins were delicious but we liked the Arbois a little better.


Feuilleté Comtois au Jambon:
We have never encountered this dish in our travels of the Franche-Comtè so we had a little peak at a recipe. The recipe did not say if we should use dried ham or fresh so we decided to make two versions and use both. First, we wrapped the Comté cheese with the ham.


Then we wraped the ham and cheese in pastry and painted it with egg yolk.

20 minutes in the oven and voila! Couldn’t be simpler.
Even better when you cut into them!


We decided we liked the version made with the fresh ham better than the one with the dried ham. The dried ham made it too salty.

Tarte au Comté:
First we made a simple pie shell:

Then we filled it with a mixture of cheese, cream and eggs…
almost done…
And finally the finished product....
What a triumph! The flavors were outstanding and it was as light as a feather.
We followed the following recipe to the letter but cut it by 1/3rd
Servings: 6 as a main dish, 10 as an appetizer
For the pastry dough:
250 g (2 cups) all purpose flour,
125 g (4 1/2 oz) butter or margarine,
1/2 glass of water,
1/2 tsp salt
For the filling:
250 g (1/2 lb) comté cheese,
50 g (1/4 cup) butter,
25 cl (1 cup) milk,
10 cl (3 1/2 oz) heavy cream,
1 T flour,
3 eggs
salt, pepper, nutmeg
1. Prepare the pastry, gently combine all the ingredients without over mixing, form pastry into a ball and let sit for 1.5 hours, roll it and fit pastry loosely into a greased pie mold and paint the edge of the crust with an egg yolk wash.
2. For the filling, melt the butter slowly, add the flour, then the milk and cook a few minutes, stirring constantly until thick.
3. Off the heat add the grated cheese, the heavy cream, beaten eggs salt, pepper and nutmeg and mix. Pour into the uncooked pastry shell.
4. Bake in a warm oven (400 F) for 45 minutes, until pie is firm and golden.

Poularde aux Morilles:
A very famous dish in the France-Comté, in fact there is even a fraternity in its honor called "Confrérie de la poularde aux morilles et au vin jaune" who seem to spend a good deal of their time eating and promoting this great dish.
Let’s begin with the Bresse chicken.... notice the length of the middle leg bone. Bresse Chickens are raised according to very strict regulations and are the most prized chickens in the world.

All cut up and ready for the frying pan...

Three pans going at once...stock, onions and chicken... I pan seared the chicken first in small batches then added it to the sautéd onions and then added some stock and Vin Jaune...

Finally everything was combined and the morels were added.Everything was cooked over a VERY low heat for about two hours. Then I removed the chicken and reduced the stock...then at the last minute I added some heavy cream.
Here s the final product...

We served it with a mélange of three different kinds of rice (red, white and wild) and fresh asparagus. The whole house smells fantastic at the moment!

A final close up...

We drank the Chateau l'Etoile with the chicken and it was bone dry with a touch of the characteristic maderized flavor you find in the Jura wines.
We used 3/4 of the bottle of 1998 Vin Jaune in the chicken dish but managed to drink the rest as a second wine with the chicken. Vin Jaune is such an unusual wine, this one was as dry as the l'Etoile but heavier and more powerful and complex.
I hope you have enjoyed my tour of the Franche-Comté and please don’t forgo this region of France, gastronomically it has so much to offer and is far less touristic than its neighbor to the west (Burgundy) and every bit as lovely. On a sad note, I was just in Champagnole and the little "Jambon du Jura" shop was preparing to close its doors after 70 years in the same location. All they need are a few food loving tourists and I am sure they could hang on to these delicious traditions.
I also suggest you visit this site which gives you a nice sampling of the most famous dishes (including recipes) of the region.
Day Three:


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