By Chrissie Walker
Tourists, and in particular American travellers, love France, but there is more to this country than the Mediterranean coast and Nice and the city pleasures of romantic Paris. There are regions that offer fascinating glimpses into the past, outstanding food, and undiscovered gems of wines and spirits. Jura awaits with its crisp, fresh air and lush pastures.
Jura is accessible via Geneva in Switzerland. There it is an exit at the airport which leads directly to this beautiful corner of France. Jura offers spectacular mountains and valleys where the local cows graze. You will hear those bovine ladies coming as they proudly wear bells around their necks, clanging an alpine tune as they tread their morning path and return for milking. That milk is so very important to the wealth of Jura. There are small towns and villages with outstanding restaurants, and bed and breakfast opportunities aplenty. Culture and history are never far away, with museums, festivals and architecture – small hamlets with their rural cottages will encourage many a visitor to pack up back home and return to stay forever. It’s an all-year-round region for both sports and leisure seekers.
But we are talking about France, after all, so food will be high on the agenda of any visitor. Cheese fondue is a must-try here. The Jura folk take advantage of the local Comté cheese, which is the most popular cheese in France and made from the rich aforementioned local milk. It is a versatile cheese as it works in salads but also in cooked dishes. It is available as a young and creamy cheese but also in aged varieties. These have a nutty quality and a harder texture. One can visit the huge cheese storage facility at The Fort Saint Antoine. Here you can see thousands of maturing wheels of cheese and learn about their aging.
Meat-lovers are also well-catered for in Jura. They have a long tradition here of preserving pork products in particular. Those piggies have had a great life living off, amongst other things, whey, the by-product of the cheese industry. There are pressed meats, cured meats and smoked meats, and one can meet those who make these savoury temptations and learn more about the process. There is also a wonderful regional food shop and smokery at Tuye du Papy Gaby. That translates as ‘Grandpa Gaby’s chimney’, and he was a man who obviously loved smoked meats, which are deliciously ubiquitous in Jura.
Perhaps buy a couple of differently aged Comté wedges for a picnic, and some sliced cold meats, along with some fruit and fresh bread and a bottle of the superb local wines. Look out for the remarkable pink sparkling wines from Lingot Martin winery. These offer the finest expression of the terroir. It’s worth visiting the winery shop and perhaps sampling before buying. Wine aficionados might well fall in love with these delicate flavours, with their hints of red and black berries, in these outstanding bottles of fizz.
But there is another drink that is famed in this region. That’s the aniseed spirit called Absinthe, and it has history along with a memorable flavour, and a serving ceremony that continues even to these modern times. It involves slowly-dripping water, and a dissolving sugar cube. Anyone visiting Jura should try a traditionally served Absinthe at least once. It’s a distilled spirit that was banned at the turn of the last century. There were spurious articles written warning of the ills of drinking Absinthe. It was blamed for much poor behaviour including lax morals and even murder. It should be pointed out that the source of these statements was mostly the somewhat biased wine industry.
Absinthe is now back in legal production and one can visit the distillery at the premises of Pierre Guy, who have a reputation for fine spirits. One can see the stills and taste various styles of this unique beverage. The distillery shop is a place to buy some truly original souvenirs. A bespoke absinthe glass and its perforated metal spoon would be perfect keep-sakes …along with an authentic bottle of Absinthe, of course!
Jura is an unspoilt region where most of the tourists are French. It remains an undiscovered gem in the heart of Europe, but the heritage, food and drink culture here will ensure many happy returns.
To read more of Chrissie Walker’s articles visit http://www.mostlyfood.co.uk