Friday, June 24, 2011

The Jura

For our latest excursion into the French wine country we went to the "Jura" region, which is just east of Burgundy and just across the border from Switzerland. I think that this might have been my favorite time out of the whole class, but I couldn't tell you why. Maybe it's because of the multitude of things we did in those two days, or the things I learned, or just the beautiful landscape.

Jura is a very mountainous region that grows completely different types of grapes than Burgundy does, so we were trying completely different wines in this region than we had previously, but the wine wasn't the only thing that had changed. Yep, that's right, the cheese was completely different, too. The pastures that the cows grazed on were different, so the milk they produced was slightly different and thus the cheeses made from that milk were very different.

The first attraction in the Jura region that we visited was the "Salins les Bains", a town known for it's medieval salt works. The salt works opened in the town of Salins in the 10th century and was still producing salt up until the 1950's. At the time the mine opened salt was just as precious as money and the two could almost be used interchangeably. The salt works stood through several wars and a lot of hard times, so why did it close in the 50's? The refrigerator. Weird, right? It makes sense though, because before the refrigerator salt was used much more as a food preservative. When the refrigerator was invented the need for salt declined and the mine could no longer operate competitively.

After the visit to the salt works we had another amazing lunch in Salins and then were off to our next stop, Tissot winery. We went for a tour through the winery lead by the winemaker, Stephane Tissot, who is the son of the founder, André Tissot. I could relate to Stephane as I am in the same exact situation as he is, although he's quite a bit older and quite successful. I was taking lots of mental notes while I was there and found his operation to be very interesting. They actually produce a wine using mold! That's right, and it's called "Vin Jaune" ( Basically, they allow a film of mold to grow on the top of the wine and then leave it like that for about 6 years, after that it's bottled and ready to drink. We tried some, and although it's a little counter intuitive, it was very delicious.

Our next destination was the town of Arbois, the home of Louis Pasteur, and where we would spend the night. Louis Pasteur is famous for creating the process of Pasteurization and for essentially singlehandedly creating the field of Microbiology. His home and laboratory were quite interesting, and were in very good condition. I thought it was so cool that we could visit the home of one of the greatest scientists ever and really see what his life was like. After, we had dinner at a local restaurant, "Taverne La Finette" and enjoyed the regions amazing cuisine and wine.

The next morning we visited the "Fruitière de Morbier", where they produce Morbier cheese, a very famous cheese only produced in that region. We woke up bright and early so that we would get there in time to see the cheese being made and we arrived just in time. After, we were treated to a tasting of the Morbier and Comté cheeses, and just like everything else we've had they were delicious. We really got spoiled, who knows what American cheese is going to taste like after this.

Our last stop in the Jura was the "Fort des Rousses", which was a fort built in the Jura mountains by Napoleon in the 1840's to protect the French border with Switzerland. Seeing as how Switzerland has historically always remained a neutral country the fort was not the best idea that Napoleon had, and never saw any action. The massive fort was constructed to house 2,500 soldiers and just as many horses and hold enough food to withstand a one year siege. So, eventually it became too much of a burden for the French government and was sold to the local township. One of the wings of the fort now serves as the towns municipal building, and the other is a massive cheese aging cellar. The cellar holds in the area of 75,000 Comté cheeses that are each probably about 80 pounds. That's a lot of cheese. We toured the fort and saw the aging cellars and had a picnic with a view out onto the border of Switzerland, which was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.


he trip to the Jura was amazing, and during the three hour ride back to Cluny while everyone else slept I found myself awake reliving the places we saw and soaking in the beautiful landscape.

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