Saturday, 7 July 2012

STAGE 7: TOMBLAINE - LA PLANCHE DES BELLES FILLES

The Tour nudges at the edge of the mountains today, though this stage is a mere trifle compared to what is to come: two third-category climbs and a nasty hilltop finish into the ski station of La Planche des Belles Filles, the quaintly named Bench of the Pretty Girls, a town in the Haute-Saone department, in the Franche-Comté region. The gastronomy of this region is famous, from the Comté cheese to Saucisse de Morteaux, a sausage smoked for 48 hours in a "Tuyé" (traditional chimney) and with its own AOC. Food from the mountains has a practical origin: it needed to last through the long winter, hence lots of cured meats, cheeses, bottled fruits and vegetables, and warming liqueurs.

Comté is a relatively hard cheese, pale creamy yellow with a strong, slightly sweet flavour. Most Comté cheeses are aged from 12 to 18 months. It makes an ideal accompaniment to red and white wine, and is excellent in sandwiches and 'toasties'. Use it in souffles and fondues too.

Haute-Saone is home to kirsch and many other fruit brandies, Morbiflette, a cousin of the Savoie Tartiflette, made with Morbier cheese, Potée Comtoise, a slowly simmered hotpot that includes smoked meats, sausages, vegetables and lard, and Croute aux morilles, morel mushrooms cooked in a rich cream sauce and served with slices of rustic bread. And many other recipes using morel mushrooms gathered from the forest.

fresh morel mushrooms

As a tribute to the cuisine of this region, I am making a supper dish of chicken in a rich mushroom sauce. While this Gastro Tour de France may be encouraging me to shop for food like a French housewife (i.e. every day), sadly, I do not have the range of food shops or a wonderful market nearby, so a little improvisation is necessary. I bought mixed dried wild mushrooms from Waitrose and soaked them before adding them to a sauce of chopped chestnut mushrooms and garlic. The sauce will be finished with white wine, cream and parsley. This is, in effect, a simple coq au vin with wild mushrooms.

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