Written by Karen Ralph
Besançon was perfect. The capital city of Franche Comté had everything: wine, cheese, art, history and location. I was staying on a barge moored on the Doubs river which was high, fast and closed to all boat traffic until further notice. This gave me lots of time to explore the city, see the birth place of Victor Hugo, visit the watch museum and find out that this is the city where Paris fashions go for resale. Shop after shop had racks of beautiful clothes, the original price tags still attached for easy comparison to the much lower sale price. Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of room in my single bag for frippery, so I kept my shopping to the important things: food and wine.
Finding a small, well stocked wine shop with a beautiful restaurant attached, I felt at home. The cavistes were friendly and helpful and within a short period of time we had assembled three cases of various Jura wines which we fit into my wheeled shopping tote. After taking my haul back to the boat it was time for a quest for cheese. Finding a cheese shop with honey and knives on one wall, dried local sausages on another and a display case filled with Comté, Morbier, Reblochon and a hundred other sheep and cow cheeses I was overwhelmed by so much choice. Offered a taste of both spring and fall Comté, I bought thick slices of each, planning to grill slices of them atop a baguette doused with Savagnan. Although I could live on cheese and wine, I stopped at the next door boucherie, drawn in by the sidewalk rotisserie and ordered two chickens for the following day. The river had re-opened: this would be a perfect lunch.
After almost three weeks on the water, travelling through Dole, Saint-Jean-de-Losne and finally to Auxonne I was ready to say good-bye to my boat-mates, hop on a train to Beaune and meet Gail Norton of the The Cookbook Co. Cooks for a drive to the Jura town of Arbois. We were excited to be on the road again, and with her driving and me navigating, we got lost in record time. Our GPS said we were eight hours from Arbois, but we knew it was only about a three hour drive: the GPS was sending us to Switzerland. We were looking forward to a cheese fest, but didn’t want it to take place at midnight in the wrong country.
This was when Gail said, “Call Richard! He’ll know where we are.” Richard Harvey, owner of Metrovino and seasoned French traveler, well acquainted with the Jura, not only knew the way, but also the highway numbers and what direction we should be going. He was like our personal GPS! When we finally arrived in Arbois it was getting dark. We found our countryside B and B and as we were checking in, our surly host said “Nothing will be open at this late hour!” Gail looked at her watch, it was only nine. We got back in the car and stopped at the first restaurant we came to. It was warm and friendly, with a few long family style tables interspersed with intimate tables for two.
We are seated at the end of a long table, surrounded by platters and cocottes filled with cream, Comté and an abundance of wild mushrooms. We ate the most delicious chicken in Vin Jaune sauce, and found out later that that restaurant is renowned in the region for their rendition of the dish….
The next day we got up and after a light breakfast went straight into the town of Arbois for a 10:30 am tasting with Monsieur-Rolet. He wasted no time in generously opening up wine after wine, explaining his wine making process as we tasted our way through at least a dozen bottles. The wines were delicious and as the tasting concluded we asked where we should have lunch. He indicated that we should follow him, leading us to a restaurant with a sunny, enclosed patio.
While we were being seated he stood on the steps leading into the kitchen and had a lively conversation with the chef and said everything was “taken care of.” He had organized a tasting menu for us. This was one of the most memorable lunches, starting with Macvin paired with layered, chilled gazpacho and pannacotta soup, poulet au Vin Jaune créme with glasses of light, fruity Rolet Trousseau and finally, too full for anything else, we finished with small glasses of Vin Jaune.
We returned to this restaurant the next day, and I had a moment when I knew that I had picked the best thing on the menu: mixed mushrooms on toast. Gail said “That’s at least $40 worth of morels!” It was seriously decadent. We followed that with Bresse chicken in Vin Jaune créme, grilled trout, roasted potatoes and thinly sliced, barely cooked zucchini ribbons, all washed down with glasses of unique Jura wines.
Both days were so delicious that like baby ducks, the Jura imprinted itself on us as the food and wine destination of our dreams.
Back in Canada we had serious withdrawal. If creativity is born of suffering, it inspired us to recreate some our favourite dishes and wine pairings from the Jura. Many of Rolet’s wines are available at Metrovino and we have fantastic ducks and chickens, and rich thick cream from nearby farms. Foragers bring us BC’s best morel, chanterelle and lobster mushrooms, and of course the Comté is imported.
Join us for dinner on Oct. 22 and experience the unique wines and cuisine of our favourite place.