Tag Archive for: Jura

Just a tiny shoal of fried whitebait tossed with house-grown Sichuan pepper, crisped garlic and coriander – snack prelude to another fascinating Moorcock at Norland lunch. In three months it will be no more, taking with it not only one of the UK’s great food experiences but also a rarely equalled adventurous drinks offering.

On this occasion it is the latter that has lured us to the squally hilltop above Sowerby Bridge. I’ve spent the weekend engrossed in Aaron Ayscough’s The World of Natural Wine (Artisan, £31.99), thus impressionable me can’t resist the prospect of tasting a clutch of minimal intervention reds and whites from France’s Jura and Savoie regions. They don’t disappoint.

Surprisingly Les Dolomies, profiled at length in Wink Lorch’s definitive Jura Wine (Wine Travel Media, £25pb), doesn’t get a mention in the comprehensive, France-centric new book from Not Drinking Poison blogger Ayscough. But then my beloved Jura is a maverick stronghold of natural wine and 15 pages only scratches the surface.

Savoie and neighbouring Bugey are more under the radar, but Domaine Partagé does get a glowing mention as one of five individual profiles. The author, a US expat, is based in Beaujolais, the crucible of the natural wine movement thanks to certain key figures over the past four decades. He traces that timeline in depth, exhaustively explaining what make this   alternative ethos superior to mainstream ‘manipulative’ winemaking. It certainly opened my eyes to the myriad dodgy practices employed in commercial production.

What you get is over 400 pages of (copiously illustrated) polemic. Ayscough pulls no punches in naming and shaming one-time natural crusaders, who have deviated from the true path. Sulfites anyone? The rest of Europe gets only a cursory over-view at the end, but that doesn’t detract from the most comprehensive exploration of a millennial phenomenon. Still the proof is in the pudding… or rather the glass. So back to the Moorcock, where any trepidation about haziness, excess brett and funk, vinegary volatile acidity, nail polish remover stinks or the dreaded ‘mouse breath are dispelled as quickly as the whitebait are despatched.

The four wines (above) we taste are exemplary. Yet each is no comfort blanket. Purity of fruit dominates with a certain attractive wildness. There’s acidity aplenty in the two whites that copes with the whitebait spice and later both the house nduja with roast Jerusalem artichokes and a smoked mackerel tartare. Both the Premice from Les Dolomies and Domaine Partagé’s Cricri were available by the glass at £8 all weekend.

The first uses the characteristic Jura grape, Savagnin, which here is hand harvested, whole bunch pressed and fermented in large tanks, taking advantage of wild yeasts. Terroir in abundance – Les Dolomies is named after the local salty, magnesium-rich limestone rock. Apricot, gooseberries and a white pepper tingle on the tongue.

The Cricri is quite a contrast, almondy, preserved lemony with a decidedly creamy aftertaste that I love. Tech stuff: direct press of whole cluster Jacquere grapes fermented and aged in fibreglass eggs. 

Both reds, at £12.50, are equally contrasting. Le Dolomie’s Bordel C’est Bon is from the Trousseau grape and translates loosely as ‘God that’s good!’. Grapes, de-stalked by hand, are fermented in stainless steel before being given 10 months’ élevage in old Burgundy barrels. For Jura it’s quite a substantial red, definitely damson and smoke on the nose, and  a plummy roundness to the palate.

Bibi from Domaine Partagé was served chilled, appropriate for a lighter carbonic macreation blend of Gamay and Savoie speciality Mondeuse that reeks of cherries and violets. Thanks to Moorcock co-founder and sommelier Aimee Tufford for the tip-off about lingering liquorice notes.

Partagé’s World of Natural Wine profile adds a human dimension. Vigneron Gilles Berlioz is “a fanatic for vineyard work with immense sideburns and a permanent suntan.” In 2016 he and his wife Christine (who work their land with a horse) “took the curious step of changing the name of their estate to Domaine Partagé (‘The Shared Estate’) to honour the co-operative input of all their employees and interns.”

Apologies then if I’ve given the impression of a rather earnest gospel to the converted. There are lots of diversions along the way from Ayscough. It’s wonderful to discover another Jura producer, Philippe Bornard, is “actually more famous outside the wine scene thanks to his 2012 appearance on L’Amour est dans le Pré (love is in the Field), long-running French dating show featuring farmers.” Just one of many eccentricities that go with the territory. 

Some of the author’s analogies are equally quirky. Take Loire producer Patrick Desplats, whose “output since he and Patrick Dervieux parted ways is like that of Andre 3000 since leaving Outkast; slim, indulgent and wildly inconsistent.” Elsewhere one vigneron’s early releases are compared with Cat Power’s – “shrill” – but the later output is as compelling as hers!

Where to buy natural wine in the north…

For the Confidentials website series I have written extensively about the best places to source minimum intervention bottles in the North and explained what constitutes unregulated ‘natural wine’. Follow these links: Manchester Part 1, Manchester Part 2 and Yorkshire. The latter piece profiled the wonderful Kwas in Huddersfield. Alas, it has since folded.

Food heroes – there are many claimants. Few are a patch on a monocled Major credited with saving traditional British cheese. From the Fifties onwards war hero Patrick Lowry Cole Holwell Rance promoted the real thing through his polemical writing and regular stock of 150 cheeses at his village shop in Streatley, Berkshire.

Current champions of raw milk farmhouse cheeses the Courtyard Dairy near Settle are quick to acknowledge their debt to the great man, who died two decades ago.

Yet Rance’s partisan spirit was never insular. The majority of the unpasteurised wheels and rounds stacked to the rafters at Wells Stores were French and arguably his greatest contribution to cheese chronicling was The French Cheese Book (1989). I have this treasured 550 page magnum opus in front of me now as I seek out his thoughts on the adjacent Mont d’Or, one of the great French autumnal treats, much more readily available here than in his day.

Like the first cuckoo of spring, I await the first oozing Mont d’Or image of the autumn from out little town’s resident cheesemonger. Jay mailed me a selection this year as the cheeses, all the Brexit bureaucratic boxes ticked, trickled in from the Jura after the mid-September start of the six month season.

It’s early days yet and the billowing crust is yet to attain the peach-pink hue of perfection, but stick a spoon in and the interior ooze offers a buttery, almost clotted cream flavour, with a beguiling sappiness no other cheese quite matches.

This year’s first hand experience comes second best to that of September 2019 when we just happened to be in the Jura mountains – also home to Comté – when the first Mont d’Ors hit the restaurants in the shadow of the ‘Golden Mountain’ that gives its name to the cheese. 

At an unpretentious village auberge, as tradition demands, a whole Mont d’Or was baked in its spruce bark ‘belt’ and served with potatoes, gherkins and a bottle of the tart local white, Savagnin. A posher establishment might have partnered the cheese with an aristocratic Vin de Jaune. Check out Fiona Beckett’s Matching Food and Wine blog last month for further tips.

Back to the bark wrapping. Major Rance’s take in his chapter on Franche-Comté is magisterially atmospheric: “In my mind I have often put myself in the place of a snowbound comtois farmer, collecting logs from the neat stack under the snow-heavy eaves. I have pictured his being suddenly struck by the warm beauty of the cut spruce and its resinous bark, which can glow like mahogany and smell like heaven. 

“A cheese could look like this, he might well have felt. So, on a base cut above the log, with a ring of épicéa bark around it to contain its enthusiasm, a new soft cheese was born. Bathing in brine helps seal bark and cheese together, and the resinous flavour and aroma spread into the cheese as it ripens.” 

Quite. That’s the full experience I’m getting now, not neglecting the sensory delights of gnawing the bark too. I scoop the unctuous cheese out onto a sourdough slice, the first of several. My preference, I’ve chosen not to bake this mini Mont d’Or. 

Vacherin is its more familiar name. The nefarious Swiss across the border nabbed the legal right to use the Vacherin-Mont d’Or moniker for their inferior, semi-pasteurised version, leaving the French with ‘Mont d’Or’ or ‘Vacherin du Haut-Doubs’ (the local département).

It’s no truism when you say you can taste the mountains in the cheese: as autumn nears the cow herds come back to the stables after summering on the high sub-Alpine pastures. The key to its allure is the richness of the milk, exclusively from Montbéliarde cattle. It is made when the yield from the cows is less and more intense, so more suitable for production of soft cheese, rather than the harder Comté cheese. After 21 days’ ageing Mont d’Or is packed in spruce boxes ranging from 480g to 3.2kg.

Closer to home Montbéliardes are also the milk source for Baron Bigod, Suffolk’s feisty answer to Brie.

Our own encounter with these brown and white beasts came during that Jura foodie road trip. The evening of our fondue-style Mont d’Or meal we had arrived at our folksy gite, La Ferme de Fleurette, in the village of Les-Hopitaux-Vieux. After a long drive we were keen to freshen up, No chance. We were immediately off in the hire car to a milking parlour high up among the forests. Our farmer host Mickaël steered us through the mud to introduce his beloved herd, raw milk from which is used to make Comté. 

Raw, yes. Pasteurisation would destroy much of the character. Rich from unsprayed grazing teeming with wild flowers and herbs, Mickaël’s milk will go to a ‘fruitier’ to be turned into traditional cheese. There are roughly 150 of these small village dairies, supplied by 2,700 farms across this beautiful, unspoilt region in the east of France. Below are the Fromagerie du Mont D’Or at Metabief and the Fruitiere des Lakes at at Labergement-Sainte-Marie in the Haut Jura.

Comté is built for ageing, for up to 24 months before it is released; Mont d’Or is for early consumption. Keep it  wrapped in greaseproof paper inside a polythene bag, and store in the fridge – it should keep for around a week. Don’t wrap in clingfilm, as it will make it sweat.

It has never lasted that long at our house. The final word goes to Major Rance: “If you are not in stuffy company: lick the bark after each mouthful of cheese, and do not waste what is left; put it on the fire to die in a scent of glory…”

Calder Cheesehouse, 56 Patmos, Burnley Road, Todmorden OL14 5EY. For Mont d’Or and all your cheese and deli needs.