Every other week, we have a so-called "regional week". This includes a 2 hour wine class on Tuesday, where we learn from Agnès about the typical wines and cheeses of the region, 1 hour theory followed by 1 hour degustation. We all love this class, as Agnès, our wine teacher is really competent, passionate and capable of transmitting her knowledge and passion to us.
The same week on Thursday we prepare a complete menu of the same region in the kitchen, usually a dish by groups of 2-3. So far we covered the Provence, Auvergne, Normandy and in the last week of November the Franche-Comte region. This part of the program is fantastic, as we get to prepare real dishes and menus in small groups, and usually learn a lot. It is a welcome change to the necessary, but not always exciting basic skills classes.
The best part is of course that we can enjoy the whole meal together including the wine we tasted the Tuesday before. Although please do not believe that we sit together around the table for 3 hours to dine and wine. It is a bit more stressful, as everybody has to keep an eye on his own dish in the kitchen while he is tasting the one from his colleagues in the tasting room (salle de degustation). So it is a steady in and out of the salle de degustation.
The Franche Comté region :
This region in the east of France, neighboring Switzerland, has developed meat and cheese specialties that are known since the medieval age. The Jura wine region within the Franche Comté is one of the oldest in France, planted by the Romans. Very specific wines like the macvin or the vin jaune are from the Jura.
On Tuesday November 21, Agnès brought us the following typical selection of cheese and wine for this region :
A Comté (AOC) and a Mont D'Or (AOC) cheese also called Vacherin. Comté (left picture) is the richest and most popular cheese in France, consumed by 40% of the population. Ideal fit with the vin jaune of the Cotes du Jura. The Vacherin/Mont d'Or is sold and presented in a round wooden box, in which it continues to ripen. You normally eat the creamy cheese with a spoon out of the box, spreading it on bread or potatoes. Matches best a read Beaujolais nouveau or red Cotes du Jura.
We tasted two typical wines of the region :
Arbois (AOC) blanc, 2000, 100% Savagnin (which is the typical cépage for the vin jaune)
The Comté cheese was a good combination with this unusual white wine.
Arbois (AOC) rouge, 2003, >80% Poulsard, a typical cépage of the Jura
The Mont d'or cheese was a better fit with this red wine.
And here comes the regional menu from Thursday, November 23rd, each dish prepared by someone from my class :
Mise en Bouche : Tartines Comtoises aux morilles
Entrée : Papillotes de foie gras au chou, saucisse de morteau
plat 1 : Matelote d'anguilles aux legumes oubliés
This was a psychologically very difficult dish to taste.
Nobody really liked it, although among our teachers it was very popular, we had several "guest-eaters" stopping by that day. But the events of the morning were haunting us too much. We had received 3 big eels, that were still ALIVE !!!. The first method to kill, was suggested by chef Stephane as letting them die in boiling water. But it was horrible, even after 5 minutes in boiling water the eel still moved, very wild, fighting for live. So hitting on the head and other attempts followed, but the first eel just didn't want to die. Even when Philip moved of the skin, it was still moving. The pictures below show the first eel, first held up over boiling water by the chef, then in "waiting" position, and after being hit on the head.
For the remaining eels, we saw the chef leaving the kitchen with a pastry rolling pin and the eels, and returning quickly, with blood spread uniform, but with 2 really dead eels....
trou normand (intermediate dish) : Sorbet au Kirsch
plat 2 : fricassée de volaille a l'ancienne au vin jaune, petits oignongs glacés, purée fine d'echalotes grises
This was the dish, that Elaine, Diane and myself were in charge of. The chicken is cooked in the typical vin jaune of the region. It was very tasty, especially the purée d'échalotes, yum yum...
A particularity in France for poultry is that it is sold including the head. Still something to get used to. So before the chicken looks so beautiful in the creamy sauce, as part of the preparation you have to burn of the remaining feathers above the gas and chop off the head. But after having seen the eel being skinned alive just before, nothing could shock us any more for that day.
Then fortunately for the dessert, no more killing or destroying of any animal....
Dessert : charlotte aux pommes
As you can see on the picture, there was a delicious cream to be poured on the charlotte : a mix of nappage (apricot jam), calvados and cream. Simple, but surprising and very yummy !