Feb 21, 2016

Dijon for a Day: Chambertin


Don't be F* Rude. Unless you're in Dijon, and you actually are F. Rude, a 19th century local sculptor who is honored there. The statue is a great place to start a day tour of Dijon, a small Burgundy city almost solely known to Americans, and probably the rest of the world too, for its production of mustard.


The charming city is more than just mustard; nevertheless, here I am, showing you one of many mustard shops. But you'll notice that even the moutarderie is charming.

Just around the corner, this spot was used for the film version of Cyrano de Bergerac:

The old center city is chock full of colombage (plaster and wood) construction, topped with gargoyles and carvings:


And the famous Burgundy tile roofs:

There's a fair amount of stone, like the 16th century Renaissance façade of the Saint Michel church:


On the north side of the 13th century Notre Dame de Dijon cathedral is an owl carving that, if you climb up and touch it, will give you good luck (good luck getting up there is the first thing you'll need). Pippa may not be in luck, as I have just learned that you're supposed to touch it with your left hand. And that the original was smashed by a moron with a hammer in 2001, so this is a replica made from a mold the Louvre had on file. On the other hand, Pippa does not break her leg climbing up or down, so it seems like the good luck is working.

The real beauty of this glass and steel market building is that it's trompe l'oeil (literally "tricking the eye") painted on a classic, old stone building.

Mustard may be the town's most famous export, but perhaps its oldest treat is the gingerbread at Mulot & Petitjean. The building is the real star -- dating from 1796. The gingerbread tastes to me like it was made in the same year, frankly, but then again, I've never been a fan of dry spice bread (pain d'épice). I don't love the product, but I love the building, with all its gorgeous old details.

But the best Dijon treat of all is the main square, which combines practically everything: sculpture, colombage, stone buildings, Mansard roofs, a turn of the century carousel, a fountain, and outdoor cafés serving something delicious.
In this case, the specialty of the house (pretty much every house around the plaza, that is) is hot chocolate. Delicious, thick, "ancient-style" hot chocolate that's more melted chocolate bar than hot cocoa. This café on the corner does not skimp on the whipped cream.

One of the perks of living in Europe is that Anthony's college roommate lives in a different country (Switzerland), yet we can easily meet up for a day, each of us training in from our respective locations and meeting in the middle. Dijon for a day with great old friends. That, of course, is the best treat of all.

THE CHEESE: Chambertin

Chambertin, a close cousin of Epoisses and Affidélice, is an artisanal cheese made of raw cows' milk. Actually, it would be more accurate to say it's a close cousin of a traditional Epoisses, not the new-fangled pasteurized kind. And it's even more accurate to say it's made of raw milk from the Brune, French Simmental, and Monbeliearde breed of cows. And it might even be most accurate of all to call it by it's more official full name: Ami du Chambertin (friend of Chambertin).

Though it seems like a timeless classic, it's actually created only in 1950, by Raymond Gaugry, also responsible for Petit Gaugry cheese. He clearly had a thing for this sort of local, orange, stinky, alcohol-washed, oozy cheese. Chambertin is named for the neighboring vineyards of Gevrey-Chambertin. It's aged for two months in a cellar with a lot of humidity, where it's washed with brine and Marc de Bourgogne (brandy made from the grape skins resulting from the wine-making process). This washing and aging process gives it that distinctive footy odor (and no, that's not coincidence, as the fungus on the cheese is related to the fungus between sweaty toes).

Besides being so oozy it pretty much has to be served with a spoon, Chambertin has a sweet-pungent smell that fills the room, and a taste to match. It's delightful, if you're into sticky, stinky cheeses.


Chambertin is made at a fromagerie on the outskirts of Dijon. Also, it has "friend" right there in the full name -- Ami du Chambertin -- which seems appropriate to go along with a very special day meeting up with old friends.


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