We met Paul’s parents in Switzerland as a surprise for Sue’s (Pauls’ mum) birthday. We turned up around midday, driving slowly up the driveway towards them, as they all stood outside watching nine aerobatic planes put a hell of a show on over the Swiss mountain ranges.
We managed to get right up beside them, singing happy birthday in Hungarian while everyone subdued their giggles, except Sue, who took a good couple of seconds to realize what was actually happening. We’d led her right astray and told her we were going to meet her a few days after her birthday. We were the last thing she was expecting. What a treat! Tears of joy; it was truly touching.
A day later, and after the birthday celebrations, it was on to the Jura Mountains and the land of comté cheese.
The Jura Mountains is famous for it’s comté cheese. The breed of cow behind it is the montbéliarde, who are left to roam free through the alpine meadows, eating the grass and the immense variety of mountain herbs and flowers that grow alongside.
Comté can be dated back to 12th century and is somewhat similar to gruyère, in fact it is sometimes known as French gruyère. Made from raw summer cows’ milk, they are formed into wheels (some weighing in at between 40 and 60kg) and allowed to mature at special affinages.
Marcel Petite is one of the main maturers (or affinage in French) in the area. We took part in a guided walk inside Fort St Antoine, the main cellar where the cheeses are aged. Simply put, they purchase wheels of comté off numerous little dairies throughout the region and then age them in their various cellars, tasting each wheel along the way to decide when they are at their best. Usually you’ll find comté in three different categories. Six months, 12-15 months and 20 months. They reserve the wheels they feel will be best at 30 months and these are then known as ‘riserva’.
Other local specialties include crème cru from the montbéliarde cow (of course), comté filled pork sausages, absinthe, tête de Moine, damassine and toétché.
We spent our time here walking the hills (foraging an amazing amount of things along the way), visiting various fromageries and markets, and cooking, both on the stove and the BBQ.
Although the following meals aren’t very traditional, we will write briefly about them. Using our favourite way to cook, over wood, we prepared many BBQ’s and had some fabulous feasts.
For the first evening in France, still continuing the birthday celebrations, we went all out and rocked up with a two-course dinner. We cooked the remaining orecchiette, really simply with some onions, loads of olive oil and tomato paste. A heap of parmesan shaved over the top and it was gold! For the family style main, we made a turmeric vegetable stew with cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, fennel and courgette with some almonds and raisins to finish. Served with a bottle of delicious Arbois pinot noir and eaten in the setting sun it was very special.
The following evening we roasted a whole chicken over the fire, alongside some courgettes and peppers to make a salad with the roasted peppers & the salad burnet we had foraged earlier. It is a little herb, with a very cucumbery taste.
For our last evening, we got the pizza stone on the BBQ and cooked some flatbreads to serve with a yoghurt and garlic dip. A piece of a beef from the local butcher was the main feature, alongside some comté stuffed sausages and a whole roasted cauliflower with a Thai style dressing.
Phillip, Paul’s father, is a homeopathic pharmacist by trade and knows a good amount of the herbs and plants growing in these areas. He has spent many days over the last couple of decades foraging them himself to use in medicine and as we walked he explained a lot of them to us and really helped us to a good insight of what was edible and what was not. With Sue’s passionate attitude and love for all things raspberry, we managed to forage a very decent amount of them from the surrounding forests. Good times.