Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2008-10-27
Comté, Morbier, Château-Chalon Vin Jaune… To discover the treasures of this still largely neglected region, what better guide could we ask for than the great chef of Arbois, Jean-Paul Jeunet?
Outwardly cold and austere, the Jura reveals itself only to those who are open to the mystery and secret of its “poetry”!
Between plains and mountains, the Revermont is the first plateau of the Jura. Famous for its sunny slopes and vineyards, this “land” is also famous for its spectacular “reculées” that constitute a rare geological phenomenon: short, very steep valleys, which house all sorts of underground rivers and caves!
At the entrance to the Reculée des Planches, Arbois occupies a verdant site crossed by the clear waters of the Cuisance. This old domain of the Habsburgs only became French under Louis XIV. After visiting the vestiges of the fortified surrounding wall and the house where Pasteur was born, you simply must climb the steps of the bell tower of Saint-Just Church, whose 16th century carillon is the biggest in the Jura. From here you can enjoy a superb panorama of the whole town and valley.
Next, I recommend paying a visit to the famous chocolate maker Edouard Hirsinger, Meilleur Ouvrier de France 1996 (Best Craftsman in France). This master of praline and chocolate cream fillings, flavoured with herbs from the Jura and spices, has also opened a chocolate museum where you will discover a collection of machines, moulds, boxes and posters celebrating the cocoa bean.
To see how Comté is made, I recommend going to the Fruitière du Field (12 miles from Arbois), which is one of the finest of the whole Comté AOC (guaranteed quality label). The “Fruitière” (cheese dairy) is a cooperative where every day the “fruits of the harvest” are left – in this case the milk of the Montbéliarde cattle, which is used to make Comté… This cheese, along with Beaufort, is one of the most appreciated in France.
It takes 530 litres of milk – i.e. the daily production of 30 cows – to make a 45kg wheel of Comté. In accordance with the AOC granted in 1976, the unpasteurised milk must be brought to the Fruitière immediately after milking. Milk producers, cheese makers and ripeners are the three parties involved in the “Comté network”.
Since Comté is a locally produced cheese, each wheel has its own characteristics according to the origin of the milk and the way in which it has been made, salted and matured… So there is not just one, but a multitude of different Comtés!
To appreciate the quality of a Comté, one observes its general appearance, the quality of its rind on the top, sides and bottom, the quality of the cheese itself and the taste… but also the presence of the “eyes” or holes that are the result of careful maturing: their size varies between that of a pea and a small cherry; if maturing is carried out at too low a temperature, holes will not form in the cheese.
Eighteen miles from Arbois, the small village of Granges sur Baume is renowned for its viewpoint overlooking the Reculée de Baume les Messieurs, which is of “prehistoric” beauty…
It is here that Hervé Poulet, his wife and their three sons make and mature an exceptional Morbier in their vaulted 17th century cellar. Invented over two centuries ago, but mostly made in the 1970s in the region between Pontarlier and Saint-Claude in the farms of Mont Risoux, this cheese, with a natural brushed rind, is softer than Comté, pressed and uncooked.
Its famous black stripe through the middle is obtained by the use of a decorative, edible, vegetable charcoal. Morbier matures for at least 45 days and ripens between 7°C and 15°C, with moisture content in the cheese not exceeding 67%. The AOC dates from 2000.
The Poulet family’s unpasteurised Morbiers stand out for their creamy texture, lovely ivory colour inside, pure, fruity aroma and inimitable taste.
Château-Chalon, capital of Vin Jaune
Proudly perching on a promontory, Château-Chalon is, first and foremost, an exceptional site, particularly in the morning when the mist rises from the valley and the sun’s rays turn the rock ochre, blue and pink!
During the great invasions of the 7th century, this fortified village had a Benedictine abbey that was strictly reserved for women of the nobility.
It was these zealous canonesses who spread the word about the name and unequalled wine of Château-Chalon... The Vin Jaune produced here can be kept for 200 years; it stands out from the other Vins Jaunes of L'Étoile, Arbois and Côtes du Jura for its minerality and smoky taste. I particularly recommend those of the Domaine Macle and Berthet-Bondet.
The enigma of Vin Jaune
“This wine has more spirit than all the philosophy books in the world,” Pasteur’s father wrote to his son in 1843. Spirit, yes, but also mystery! Because although the research carried out by Pasteur in his own vineyard in Arbois is at the origin of modern oenology, questions still remain. Thus, Vin Jaune is a truly unique wine. Made from Savagnin, an old grape variety that grows only in the Jura, this wine ages in a remarkable way: in the cask, it is covered by a film of yeast (the aerobes discovered by Pasteur), which protect it and regulate its oxidation.
The persistence of this film is essential, any accidental breach resulting in the destruction of the precious liquid. The colour then becomes amber-yellow and the taste conjures up walnut and curry. This biological phenomenon lasts at least 6 years inside the cask.
When it has finished developing, the Vin Jaune represents barely two thirds of the initial volume. This is why a bottle peculiar to the Jura was created in the 18th century, the 62cl Clavelin. The capacity corresponds to what remains of a litre of the original white wine after the “angels’ share” has evaporated.
Maison Pasteur (Pasteur’s house)
83 r. de Courcelles, 39600 Arbois.
Tel: + 33 (0)3 84 66 11 72, Fax: + 33 (0)3 84 66 12 85.
Guided tours only.
Fruitière de comté
1 r. des Fossés. Tel: + 33 (0)3 84 66 21 53.
Tour of the dairy and tasting by appointment only, every day except Sunday, 8am-12pm, 5.30pm-7.30pm.
Fromagerie artisanale Hervé Poulet et fils (artisanal cheese dairy)
39210 Grange sur Baume
Tel: + 33 (0)3 84 48 28 32
Chocolaterie et Musée Edouard Hirsinger (chocolate shop and museum)
Pl. de la Liberté 39600 Arbois.
Tel: + 33 (0)3 84 66 07 97.
Tel: + 33 (0)3 84 44 60 48