We’re a little scared of Tony Martin. How could anyone power up those mountains the way he did Sunday to take the stage win and then set out almost the very same way the next day? He made it an impossibly long way leading out Michał Kwiatkowski before cracking, and the only people able to pass Martin were Thomas Voeckler (and please, please, commentators, stop calling him “Little Tommy Voeckler” like his size is THE important thing about him) and the man who nearly won the stage, Joaquim Rodríguez. And while we’ve not had much time for Alberto Contador since what we shall tactfully call the bad steak incident, full credit to the man for riding on as long as he did with a broken tibia, which is both dedicated and mad. The race is wide open, but for the careful, commanding presence of Vincenzo Nibali at the top of the general classification.
Today the Tour heads to the Jura Mountains, the mountain chain from which the Jurassic period and the title of this post derive. It begins in Besançon and ends in Oyonnax, a route with four category climbs in a row near the end. All eyes will be on Peter Sagan, the wearer and likely winner of the green jersey, who is eager for a stage win in this Tour.
We decided to profile two of the specialities of the Jura Region which are often served together: Comté cheese and Vin Jaune (yellow wine). Comté, as you may know, is the most popular and widely consumed cheese in France, with an annual production of 40,000 tons. In 1958 it was one of the first cheeses to receive AOC status. Comté is tied by law to its terroir, as it must be produced in the Jura Mountains using only unpasturised milk from the local Montbéliarde and Simmental breeds of cow that graze on wildflowers and grasses in local pastures.
There are a number of additional restrictions, down to the number of hectares of grazing pasture per cow and specifications about the cow’s winter diet. David Lebovitz wrote at length about his visit to the Jura Mountains, and his descriptions and photographs of the cheese-making process are top-notch.
One of the traditional accompaniments for Comté cheese is Vin Jaune or yellow wine (and, as you can see in the photo below, perhaps also a few walnuts).
Vin Jaune is a bit similar to dry fino sherry because it is matured in a barrel under a film of yeast called the voile (similar to flor in sherry production). Unlike sherry, however, Vin Jaune is not fortified. It’s made from the Savagnin grape, a member of the Traminer family (the same family as Gewurztraminer), and it’s made from late-harvest grapes. The juice is then fermented slowly in small old oak casks that are not topped up during the fermentation process. That means some of the wine evaporates, creating an air gap and allowing the development of a cap of voile. The wine’s characteristic yellow colour and nutty flavours develop over the required aging period of six years and three months. Because only 62% of the original wine remains in the cask at the end of this long aging, the wine is bottled in special 62cl bottles called clavelins. The AOC regions permitted to produce the wine include Château-Chalon AOC, Arbois Vin Jaune AOC, Cotes du Jura vin Jaune AOC and Vin Jaune de L’Etoile.
The resulting wine has a deep golden colour that verges on amber, and a flavour reminiscent of walnut, dried fruit, pine resin, nuts, spice,and a surprising high acidity and imposing structure. And it can properly stand up to cheese, especially Comté with its rich, nutty, yeasty and somewhat fruity flavour. The two are a combination you won’t soon forget once you’ve tried them together, but as relatively little Vin Jaune is produced, you might find yourself in search of a substitute. You might try a a Palo Cortado or off-dry Amontillado sherry, a Cru Beaujolais, or a Roussanne.
Comté is also a great melting cheese traditionally used in the fondues of the region and in many French recipes. Try substituting it for Emmental, Gruyère or cheddar in one of your favourite recipes, or try one of these recipes:
Traditional Comté Fondue from La Petite Echelle, a restaurant and inn in the Jura Mountains
Leek and Comté Timbales
Tomato Bread Pudding with Chives and Comté cheese
Camembert and Comté Grilled Cheese with Mushrooms
Raymond Blanc’s Comté Cheese Soufflé
French Onion Soup with Comté
Potato Rosti with Comté Cheese
Comté, Goats Cheese and Onion Tart
Parsnip Gratin with Comté and Thyme
Corniottes, a triangular French pastry filled with a savoury egg-cheese mixture
If we don’t devour our Comté on its own, we’ll probably make gougères, which are basically a cheesy choux pastry. Janet has a favourite recipe using cheese and ham and thinks the Comté would be fantastic in them. They make an exceptional nibble with a glass of wine.