France is known for its culinary treasures. Having recently been placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list (read here), it’s little wonder that cooking for French friends/family can be a daunting task. Paul Bocuse may talk about quenelles or how to make chou pastry… But what if you’re making dinner for your Franche-Comté relatives?
What do you buy? What should you prepare?
The stress alone is enough to give you hives. And then you remember: Texas…and meat.
What to eat…now that the cows have come home! Franche-Comté is one of France’s cattle raising regions with excellent pastures in the Juras. And les comtois love meat! They also have a fondness for charcuterie (smoked meats), hams, and sausages.
Saucisse de Montbéliard: this sausage comes from the city of Montbéliard. It’s made with pork and spiced with cumin, nutmeg, garlic, and white wine. The sausage is cooked in simmering water for about 20 minutes but can also be baked in the oven (wrap it in foil first). It can be served with cancoillote cheese (see below).
Saucisse de Morteau: also called the Belle de Morteau, this sausage comes from the town of Morteau and is perhaps the best-known sausage specialty of the region. It is also made exclusively with pork meat but is smoked over conifer chips in a special oven/chimney. Be sure to look closely: it is not an authentic saucisse de Morteau unless it has the seal and wooden peg at one end. This saucisse is AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) too meaning that 1) it can only come from Morteau in order to be called saucisse de Morteau and 2) it is made in accordance to strict guidelines of production. To prepare the saucisse de Morteau, carefully poach it in simmering water to prevent it from bursting; it can be served either hot or at room temperature.
Brési: this is beef that has been dried, salted, and left to smoke for 3 months. Most often, brési is thinly sliced and served as an appetizer or as a side dish with a fondue. (More on fondue below.) Brési is similar to Italian bresaola or Swiss Bünderfleisch.
And to go with the meat? Potatoes! It doesn’t get any easier than potatoes. Make a purée and your comtois family may love you forever. Or, better yet, after steaming/parboiling the potatoes slice them and then toss them in a sauté pan with a little duck fat. Barring the duck fat, there is always room for lardons. Or maybe you can serve a nice potato gratin. All are wonderful options but there may be one — and only one — reason why potatoes are so loved by les comtois: cheese.
Lactose-tolerant? You’re good to go! The lovely pastures of the Jura don’t only provide grazing areas for beef cattle. These pastures are home to dairy cattle as well.
Comté: some of the cows that graze on the Jura Mountains provide the milk for one of my favourite cheeses. Sometimes called the Gruyère de Comté this cheese is made from unpasteurized cow’s milk. The fat content is about 45%. It has a strong and slightly sweet taste. For a refreshing salad, cut the Comté into cubes and toss it in your Belgian endive salad. Comté is also AOC regulated and, along with other regulations, AOC requires that only milk from Montbéliard cattle is allowed and each cattle must have at least a hectare of grazing.
Mont d’Or: back in the 12th century, once the summer had ended so would the production of Comté. The cow’s milk would then be used to make Mont d’Or (also called Vacherin du Haut-Doubs; in Switzerland it’s called Vacherin Mont d’Or). Typically, Mont d’Or contains 45 – 50% fat and is found in round containers made from spruce. You can put the entire container in the oven to warm and serve it as a fondue.
Cancoillote: is another runny cheese typical of the region. (It can also be found in Lorraine and Luxembourg.) It can be served either hot (pour it on potatoes) or cold (smear it on a piece of bread).
Morbier: is a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese that may or may not be pasteurized. Traditionally, the cheese was made by two layers of milk — one from the morning’s milking and another from the evening’s milking. The layers were separated by ash. Today, the cheese is made from one milking with the ash added for tradition. There are two AOC versions of this cheese: the Jura Morbier and the Doubs Morbier.
Bleu de Gex: also called Bleu du Haut-Jura, is a creamy, semi-soft blue cheese made from unpasteurized cow’s milk. During production, mold (penicillium glaucum) is added and the cheese is then left to age for at least three weeks. To meet AOC guidelines it must contain only the milk of Montbéliard cows.
Surely there is more..? Besides meats, potatoes, and cheeses, les comtois enjoy a good salade de pissenlits. This salad is made from dandelion greens and reportedly gets its name from the diuretic effects of dandelion. Also typical of the region are two wines: vin jaune and vin de paille. Vin de paille (straw wine) is a dessert wine made from grapes that are spread on straw and left to age for a few months before the juice is extracted. Vin jaune (yellow wine) is also a sweet dessert wine made from Sauvignon grapes. The process of making vin jaune is similar to that used to produce sherry; the wine is then cask-aged for 6 – 10 years.
The Comtois also enjoy specialties from neighbouring regions: raclette (Savoie; cured meats, potatoes, and melted cheese); fondue savoyarde (Savoie; crusty chunks of bread dipped into melted cheese); choucroute garnie (Alsace; sauerkraut garnished with smoked meats); tartiflette (Savoie; made with potatoes, cheese, cream, lardons); flammeküche (Alsace; quiche made with onions, bacons, and crème fraiche).
So, go ahead! Whip out some smoked ham, potatoes, and cheese. It can be that simple to feed a hungry comtois!