SATURDAY 9 JULY 2011 • FILMING & SERVICE IN FRANCHE COMTE
Filming and Service in Franche Comté
For my new TV series I have just returned to my native area of France, the Franche-Comté. This programme is going to show the real magic of television and I am really pleased and proud about it: it gets to the heart of gastronomy, by showing us finding genuinely local produce from local producers, and making a real feast of it for my own family and friends.
Franche-Comté is one of the most undervisited, yet most dramatic parts of France. Geographically, though, it is in the “hexagon” of France: it is situated between Switzerland and (the once-independent) Burgundy. This means it is also in some prime wine country, for it borders both the vineyards of Jura, whose incredible vin jaune is made from the savagnin grape, and those of Burgundy, with its noble chardonnay and pinot noir.
Of course we decided to film here because it’s my home, where I was born, formed and educated, from where all my knowledge of food comes – everything I was taught by Maman Blanc about the seasons and the varieties of fruits and vegetables, where I foraged and where I hunted. It is here that you should look for the background of the food we serve at Le Manoir and at the Brasseries Blanc.
For a week we took my two young commis, Kush and Katie there, to introduce them to my region, my culture and my landscape. We visited the Haut Jura in the area’s south west, and the mountainous Haut Doubs, covered in forest. This is a wonderful way to grasp the concept of regionality – for the Haut Jura stands almost alone. It’s laced with small ponds, lakes and rivers that meander across the countryside. This is peasant country, not sophisticated; it can be rough, with some of the hottest summers and coldest winters in all France.
It’s also an object lesson in how food is created and determined by the landscape. One day we had breathtaking scenery in the Haut Doubs close to St Antoine, where they make the best Comté cheese – Katie and Kush discovered the mountains, where delicate little streams sometimes spill off the hillside, creating a misty spray on the pine trees.
There is no intensive agriculture. It’s impossible because the area is so mountainous. So we were able to observe an eternal, virtuous circle. Near the pine woods, farmers graze the beautiful red and white Montbéliard cattle, which give the very best milk for cheesemaking. This means that the whey produced by cheesemaking is also the best; so this is fed to the pigs. The pigs yield wonderful hams and the great Morteau sausage, which is smoked over the pine from the mountainous forests.
Why does the region specialise in the hard Comté cheese? Because the winters can be so harsh, that sometimes the peasants couldn’t leave their houses for three, four or even six months! So they had to make a cheese that would last and keep well. The houses had a special area where the pine was burnt to smoke the hams and sausages, and the fire made there warmed the rest of the small house. Seeing this, we realised how the character of a place affects your health, the environment and landscape and even the architecture. We visited a cellar with 100,000 cheeses maturing – a cathedral of Comté.
In this fashion we spent the week – but to a purpose, as we were sourcing the ingredients for an important feast. It was the first time I’ve ever cooked in my home region! Now, this is true. I have never cooked before here, even for my parents, any of my family or friends, let alone as I did at this grand dinner for 34 guests, which not only included my immediate family and some childhood friends, but my old headmistress, headmaster, my first boss, and Michelin-starred chefs such as Jean-Paul Genet and Pierre Basso Moro, the chef at Château de Germigney, where we cooked the dinner.
It was quite a feat, as the day lasted from 6am to 2am the next day. The greatest reward for a cook is to see your guests enjoying the food, eating it all, even asking for more. That is what happened here. This feast demonstrated the power of the table, to bring people together with the laughter, the wine and the friends… it concluded at 2am: in Franche -Comté they really enjoy their wine!
But in some ways it was both the happiest and saddest day yet of my life. Happy, because it was such a successful meal, cooked for so many people I love. But it was also the saddest – for it was the same evening that Le Manoir won the Catey Award for Best Hotel, something I’ll always treasure – and I could not be there to accept it in person.
I then slept for 12 hours, waking up just in time for lunch, then, as a loving son, I spent some time with the old lady, said my goodbyes and then prepared my for the next challenge: cooking in another neighbouring region ...Alsace.
As I write, I am enjoying a fabulous 3 star Michelin meal at my friends the Haeberlin Family, at the legendary Auberge de l'Ill at Illhaeusern (the house on the island): the best possible introduction to Alsace.
More action on its way: I will keep you posted!
PS Please tell me what you think of my blogs and my website: I want to hear from you!
Raymond Blanc's new book, Kitchen Secrets, featuring recipes from Kitchen Secrets Series 1 & 2 and many more, was published by Bloomsbury on 14 February and is available to buy online from Amazon, from Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Brasserie Blanc, Maison Blanc, and from online and retail bookstores.
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