April 17, 2014

Presents in Saulieu

When a store calls itself “Cadeau Gourmand,” it better have good gourmet presents. In the middle of the gastronomic town of Saulieu, this shop delivers the goods.

The proprietor, who runs the place by himself, offers tastes for every taste. From Burgundy, of course, there is pain d’épices, mustard, jams, snails, cassis, jellies, candies, and honey from the Morvan Park. From elsewhere in France, look for specialty chocolates, liqueurs, and colorful candy-coated nuts.


There is also a large wall of animals in jars and cans for every appetite: pheasant in white wine; capon in Jura wine; wild board, country, local mushroom, and paysan pâtés; terrines of deer, duck, and rabbit; quail on a bed of mushrooms; foie gras in every format; duck confit; snails; frogs legs; head cheese. This is the type of display that makes the local fauna sweat...and also a great place for presents for people back home.

Food Wall
The owner offers group wine tasting from his impressive stock of local, affordable wines. In addition, he prepares customized gift baskets, a sure hit with French and foreigner alike.

What: Gourmet food store
Where: 14, rue du Marché, Saulieu, Côte d’Or, Burgundy
When: Tuesday-Sunday
How Much: Up to you

April 16, 2014

Marsannay la Côte Food Festival

Just a little bit south of the city of Dijon is the wine village of Marsannay-la-Côte. For 31 years, in the heart of grand crus, the town has invited locals and tourists alike to their “Gourmet Days.” Over a March weekend, dozens of vendors congregate in the town gym to showcase food from here and from there. The mayor speaks, the local Confrérie plays host, and, of course, the wine flows.

Food and photos always bring the politicians
From the ceiling hang giant kite-like dragons, butterflies, and other colorful beasts. It is difficult to decipher if this is part of the food day or just happenstance. Regardless, on the ground, the objectives are clear as a mountain morning: Tables sag under the weight of caloric treasures. 

Two men from the Jura sell sausages as thick as a forearm and cheeses in wheels that could fit a tractor. The artisan charcutier is doling out samples of his jambon persillé three ways: original, with mustard, and with foie gras. The latter is a taste sensation, and results in more than one billfold shrinking. Back by the entry, a woman and her teenage daughter are offering slices of horsemeat sausages. 

Across the room, a team is peddling dozens of types of…lasagna? Yes, lasagna. With mushrooms, snails, scallops, sausage, vegetables, bacon, tuna, smoked ham, or salmon. You kind of shake your head, wondering how they stay in business selling nothing but lasagna, but also applaud their audacity and their passion.

Lasagna ten ways
Sweets are also front and center. Along with a chocolate fountain, there are homemade pâte de fruits (jellied fruits), macarons, colorful lollipops, and even some French attempts at classic American cookies. An artisan was dipping perfect little squares of crunchy wafers into a dark, melted pool of delicious, extracting them with tweezers before placing them on wire racks to cool. The transformation from rustic simplicity to classy elegance was breathtakingly quick.

The people were passionate about their products, dedicated to their work, and eager to share their quality with consumers. As this festival clearly has staying power, it is worth checking out if you are in the region.

What: Journées Gourmandes Food Festival
Where: Marsannay-la-Côte, Côte d’Or, Burgundy
When: March weekend
How Much: Entry is a couple/few euros

April 11, 2014

Goat Cheese

On a hilly farm in the tiny village of Blancey, Sébastien Roussel, a 30-ish guy, owns and operates a goat farm. With his herd of a couple dozen goats (plus the necessary bucks), he makes cheese, yogurt, fromage blanc, and other little tidbits from goat milk.

Fresh cheese in molds
He grew up an hour or so away from Blancey, but has no roots there, no family, no traditions. It is strikingly courageous in rural France to find anyone (much less a young bachelor) who has the desire to move away from the comforts of home into a new place and start something as audacious and back-breaking as milking goats. He admits he works all the time. It is a one-man show, with the exception of an intern. He sells at markets in the region as well as a couple of conveniently accessible supermarkets, and welcomes visitors/consumers to the farm every Wednesday evening.

Kids go for 3-4 euros each to other farmers
On a recent visit, he gave an extensive tour of the operation, including the milking parlor (which holds 12 goats at a time); the chicken coop, whose population was recently reduced by a dozen thanks to a local fox; the cheese making room, an immaculate white ode to cheese; the different aging rooms, whose temperature is controlled by old-school oscillating fans); and of course the goats, for whom he whistles. 

They come bounding down the hill towards the trough he has just filled. Sébastien points out that, unlike cows, goats are curious and will come right up for a nuzzle or a pat. Because there is not a lot of goat cheese production in the region, the locals have been more curious than threatened, a change from another region he has spent time in, where competition was fiercer and the welcome decidedly cooler.

And now you know where goat cheese comes from
Back in the store, he dips a mi-frais into a Tupperware of garlic and fine herbs, just one of the several options available. Coupled with some yogurts, the astonishingly beautiful countryside, and the kind of conversation one can only get from a young guy who works all day on a farm by himself milking goats, it is a great afternoon and a little treasure in Côte d'Or.

What: Goat cheese farm
Where: Blancey, Côte d’Or, Burgundy
When: Wednesdays from 6-8pm at the farm; at the Pouilly-en-Auxios market Friday evenings and the Saulieu market on Saturday mornings
How Much: Cheeses are 2 euros

April 10, 2014

Pig Farm

At the Ferme des Levées, about 15 minutes west of Beaune, you can get an up-close look at how to raise organic pigs. It is a great place to bring children as they can get right up close and personal with the pigs in an unthreatening, largely unsupervised environment. (As is frequently the case in France, you are on your own to survey your kids. Farm staff are happy to let you roam the "pig parks" without a guide.) 

The pigs roam around vast expanses, chewing all the while, looking for treats in the mud and grass under their feet. They look simultaneously cute, happy, and healthy. They eat organic cereals with no genetically modified ingredients. The run, cavort, and snort with great regularity. They stay on the farm for about a year before, well, before it ends.

When you have sated your curiosity about porcine life, you can go to the small store to check out the porcine “afterlife.” Fresh boudins noirs, rillettes (perfectly-spiced minced and shredded pork, wonderful on morning baguette or tartine), roasts, chops, terrines, pâtés, saucisson sec, pig feet, even little plastic tubs holding a single brain (about 2 euros each). 

The female employee says they ship 2 to 4 pigs a week to the Beaune facility, and then do all the butchering themselves on site. Very on site, as the man in the kitchen behind her saws through a bone. With genuine pride, she discusses the quality of the meat. It is tasty, with a luxurious texture, so different from industrial stuff. She goes on that many customers are now planning ahead, ordering a roast or some chops several days in advance and then coming to pick up the cuts later in the week. A wise strategy.

Buying or not, this is a fun producer to visit and a great way to get in touch with the roots of the food you eat.

What: Organic pig farm
Where: Lusigny-sur-Ouche, Côte d’Or, Burgundy
When: Open Tuesday and Wednesday from 3:00pm-7:00pm and Fridays and Saturdays from 10-12 and 3-7.

How Much: Up to you

April 9, 2014

Le Fournil d’Antigny-la-Ville

A lot of people have had a lot to say about bread over the years. Rightfully so. Bread is good, and, like beer and champagne, it kind of goes with everything.

In the tiny village of Antigny-la-Ville, about 20 minutes from Beaune, a young baker is doing his best to add his tale to bread folklore. In the middle of “town,” he built a little bread laboratory with a brick oven, and has been churning out organic loaves of brioche and sourdough for three years. 

Brioche (top) and other loaves ready to bake

In three more years, he confides, it will be even better because the oven will be paid off, giving him and his family a little more to live on. He confesses that it has been hard starting out, but he always believed in himself, and believed in his ability to make the project work. His friends from growing up thought him crazy; who was going to buy his organic bread? He explains that, initially, many clients bought almost out of kindness, one of his littlest loaves just so that the poor guy had some income. But now, as dedication and experience have improved his bread (“les clients ont vu que je m’améliore”), they are buying 1 or even 2 kilograms a week. He is quick to point out that, contrary to the local baguette, which is brick-hard within 24 hours, his bread can last a week.

When asked if his neighbors in the village purchase his products, he says no. Complex layers of tradition and loyalty prevent that radical of a move. He laughs a little, and says he never included local purchases in his revenue projections.  

Flour dust before baking
As the oven heats, he drinks Heineken (surely a sign of genius) and offers his thoughts on organic food, poverty, elevated local housing prices, why the Portuguese and Poles are the primary labor force in Swiss vineyards, and the magical powers of travel. If your mind’s eye conjures a baker in small-town France with utopian ideals, your mind’s eye is probably right on. But sometimes the smell of the bread overpowers whatever he is talking about, and you just enjoy it.

The bread is available at three area markets during the week (Saulieu on Saturday, Chagny on Sunday, and Bligny-sur-Ouche on Wednesday), but the freshest and most fun way to enjoy this bread is to place an order a day or two to  before he “attacks the bread” Thursday afternoon. You can pick from standards (sourdough, rye, whole wheat) or just let him make whatever he feels like, a not-too-risky dance with chance. You can then go to his workshop to pick up your loaf, still warm, ready for your love and affection. Spread it with good butter and you may be moved to add your voice to the world of bread literature.

A quick brush of the finished product
What: Bakery
Where: Antigny-la-Ville, Côte d’Or, Burgundy
When: Thursday afternoons
How Much: A small loaf is 3 euros

April 3, 2014

Salon du Chocolat

People will come, Ray, people will most definitely come.

There are many different kinds of love in the world. Puppy. True. Unrequited. Dangerous. Platonic. Romantic. Maternal. But few affairs are more torrid than the one between the French and their chocolate.

Gerry Cheevers or Hannibal Lecter
Dijon's inaugural Salon du Chocolat was a poem to chocolate lovers everywhere. At dozens of stands, the cocoa bean was dressed to kill. It was shaped into dolphins, owls, frogs, and cows; made into flower bouquets; sculpted into shoes; turned into edible art.

People tasted and bought it in countless shapes, colors, and textures. There was white chocolate with plump hazelnuts popping out; sublime squares scented with ginger, cinnamon, or salt; ganaches of every flavor; slabs of Ugandan, French, Swiss, and Ecuadorean goodness. It covered candied fruit and was turned into lollipops. The artisans wore rough gloves to prevent it melting as they broke, weighed, and sold it to adults and the kids who were everywhere, riding every part of the sugar wave.

A Michelin-starred chef offered free samples of pumpkin soup flavored with a chocolate cream. He rolled foie gras in cocoa powder, which he served, dusted with a little orange zest, on top of little toasts. These latter had been slathered in the grease from the foie gras, because, as the chef reminded his audience, “one should never waste anything in the kitchen, so why not use that grease? It would be a shame to throw it out!”

In addition to the chocolate, there were fine wines and liqueurs to accompany the sweets. The “World Champion of Jam” offered demos, samples, and a vast selection of products. Nougat, doughnuts, and “bretzels” all made an appearance. And, of course, there was a foie gras salesman in the middle of the chocolate show.    

 Two hours before the show ended for the weekend, the line to get in was several hundred yards long. It seems there is little more attractive than a chocolate feast on a Sunday afternoon in early spring in the heart of Burgundy’s capital city.

What: Salon du Chocolat
Where: Parc des Expositions (Tram: Auditorium), Dijon, Côte d’Or, Burgundy
When: Early spring (the first version was in late March; 2015 dates TBD)

How Much: 4 euros