Jura Mountains

Mountain cheese and smoked sausage

Marcel Petite ripening cellars of  Fort Saint Antoine in the Jura mountains

Marcel Petite ripening cellars of Fort Saint Antoine in the Jura mountains

Jura mountains, the sub-alpine mountain range stretching along the Franco-Swiss border covers the region of Franche-Comté with its four departments (Doubs, Jura, Haute Saône, Territoire de Belfort) is home to some of France most delightful culinary tradition. With its fertile soil and evergreen forest surrounded by alpine pastures, its specially bred Montbéliard cows have produced one of the region most famous cheese – the unbeatable Comté. These pressed hard cheeses made from unpasteurized cow’s milk is labelled AOC – the French certification of controlled production to maintain quality and regional authenticity. Like in many parts of France, the production is carried out in a cooperative style when farmers sell their milk to the cheese maker (fruitière) then it makes its way to the ripening cellars (Affineur). There are however some cheese farmers who produce the entire product till its maturation. While most of the cheese makers is machine assisted, the cheese makers still use their hands a valuable tool, to feel the right consistency and texture of the curd. Below are images from my visit to the local cheese maker in Longeville Doubs in the Franche Comté region of the Jura mountains where it specializes in the making of the Mont d’Or and Comté cheeses. 400 litres of milk is needed to produce 40 kg of Comté cheese. The milk is placed in large copper cheese vat, heated to about 55° till the curd becomes a structured mass before placing into large round metal molds. The whey is then collected and sold to pig farmers, added as flavouring to their food. Labelled, the cheese is now ready to be sent to the ripening cellars.

Montbéliard cows  grazing the Alpine pastures and the process of cheese making cooperative style in the Jura mountains

Montbéliard cows grazing the Alpine pastures and the process of cheese making cooperative style in the Jura mountains

I have always wanted to see how the Comté cheese is aged in one of those gigantic cellars and my visit to the reputed Marcel Petite ripening cellars, housed in a nineteenth century fortress of Saint Antoine is an eye-opening look at the fascinating world of the Comté cheese. Set in an idyllic breathtaking alpine landscape near the Swiss border, the ripening cellars has a very large number of cheese wheels supplied by local cheese makers and is certainly a must visit. Entering the vaulted cellars the air gets a little chilly with a strong odour of molds and humidity. Stacks of Comté wheels are placed on wooden shelves in symmetric rows reaching the very high ceiling of the cellars. The “Maître d’affineur” or the master cellar would walk down the many rows of Comté wheels and randomly select a wheel to proceed with the quality assessment. He would take one out, turning the 40 kg wheel and with his cheese trier “taps” onto its surface. After finding a particular spot, he plunges his cheese tester instrument twisting and probing its texture to take out a sample. Next stage is to detect the aromatic scent by placing the cheese sample under his nose and finally tasting the cheese. Comté cheese takes between four to fourteen months to age and during its maturation daily maintenance is carried out by the “affineurs”. Today the process of turning the cheese is assisted by way of a special machine controlled by the “affineurs”. Depending on the maturation, Comté cheese ripened over a year has a much stronger taste and grainier in texture than the younger cheese.

Marcel Petite  cheese ripening cellars in Fort Saint Antoine

Marcel Petite cheese ripening cellars in Fort Saint Antoine

While Comté is the most popular variety of cheese in the Jura mountains other various regional cheeses are the Mont d’Or, Bleu de Gex, Morbier, Mamirolles and Cancoillote as well as the regional yellow wine.

The cheeses of the Jura mountains, Comté, Morbier, Bleu de Gex, Mamirolles, Cancoillotte  and the local yellow wine

The cheeses of the Jura mountains, Comté, Morbier, Bleu de Gex, Mamirolles, Cancoillotte and the local yellow wine

If cheese plays an important role as a regional delicacy, sausages is another specialty with the reputed Morteau sausage. It is traditionally smoked in tall wooden pyramidal chimneys called tuyés. At least 48 hours is needed to smoke the sausages using conifer sawdust to give it a distinctive flavour. One of these wooden pyramidal chimney can be seen at the family run company in Malbuisson in Doubs.

Ham and sausages smoked in a traditional wooden chimney

Ham and sausages smoked in a traditional wooden chimney

Labelled IGP (EU Label Protected Geographical Indication) the Morteau sausage popularly known as Jésu de Morteau, is only produced in the Jura mountains using regional pork fed with whey. They can be smoked, cooked and prepared according to various recipes. I had a go with a dish specially made with slices of Morteau sausages and potatoes on a bed of salad served with the traditional Cancoillote cheese.

Slices of Jesu de Morteau on a bed of salad

Slices of Jesu de Morteau on a bed of salad

A more creative recipe of Morteau sausages cooked with an oriental twist placed on bed of green salad served with the creamy Cancoillote cheese.

Jesu de Morteau rolled Nem sausages

Jesu de Morteau rolled Nem sausages

To wrap it all up, a must visit to an authentic seventeenth century alpine farm in Rochejean at an altitude of 1150m in the mountains of Mont d’Or to get a taste of the traditional Fondu prepared by Mr Norbert – made with Comté cheese sprinkled with woodruff (Galium odoratum), potato roesti with lard and his home made smoked sausages.

An alpine meal in a typical mountain farm in the Jura mountains

An alpine meal in a typical mountain farm in the Jura mountains

Categories: Jura Mountains

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