Jul 28, 2017

Your New Favorite King: Tomme au Vin Jaune


The Good King René, Roi René 1er d'Anjou, René 1er de Naples, is not just your favorite new king, he's also your favorite new Count of Guise, Duke of Bar, Duke Consort of Lorraine, Duke of Anjou, Count of Provence and Forcalquier, Count of Piémont, Count of Barcelona, titular King of Jerusalem, titular King of Sicily, titular King of Aragon, and Marquis of Pont-à-Mousson. He's also one of the biggest proponents of wine and wine-making in France's history -- maybe that's why his subjects called him The Good King René.

The Good King (and Duke, and Count, and Marquis) René was born in a tower in this, the Castle d'Angers (Angers is also historically called Anjou, and you'll see them used interchangeably), and raised here along-side his cousin, the future King of France Charles VII. Later in life, he spent most of his time (and money and energy) in a few of his territories, and as a result, Angers, Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, and Tarascon all prospered and continue to honor his legacy. He died in Provence, but his body is buried in Angers.


He was known as an intellectual, and patron of the arts, who loved festivals, music, tournaments, science, biology, who wrote poetry, collected illuminated manuscripts, and maintained his own theater troop, and is considered one of the biggest patrons at the end of the Middle Ages. He lived a long life for the 15th century, 71 years (1409-1480).


But he is best-known and loved among the French for his patronage of vineyards and his interest in wine and wine-making. The Provence vineyard Vignerons du Roy Rene (Roy is an alternate spelling of Roi, meaning "King") was created in 1922 but builds on the history of the Roi Rene in the region where he celebrated and drank alongside the "petits gens" (literally "little people" but meaning peasants and non-nobles) at festivals and tournaments he organized.

It was the Good King who issued the letters of nobility to winemakers in Provence. In fact, his local subjects nicknamed him Roy Vigneron, the Vineyard King. He himself owned several vineyards in Gardanne. He employed échansons or cupbearers, who were in charge of serving wine to noble guests and making sure they wanted for nothing while at the table.

At his castle in Angers, there is still, to this day, a small working vineyard of 140 Chenin Blanc vines that form part of the "hanging" gardens on the ramparts.

There are roses at the end of each row, not for decoration but because they serve as early warning signs for problems with the grape vines. The roses are more sensitive than the grapes and are good indicators of the vineyard's general health.

His life was not all wine and roses: the Roi René participated from ages 15-18 in a siege of le château d'Antoine de Vaudémont, whose owner wanted to take Lorraine from him. He was help prisoner by other dukes and rivals at least twice in his life -- held for ransom and used to exchange for other political prisoners. In 1429, he led troops against the English Duke of Bedford in the Hundred Years War, then in 1445, married his daughter to King Henry VI of England. She was later taken prisoner herself. It's tougher to be a Medieval noble than you'd think.

His direct interest in improving the lives of peasants and in promoting wine has made him one of the most popular kings in French history, even if he was never French King. There are so many things named after him: restaurants, hotels, vineyards, roads, plazas, songs, shops, businesses, and even candy. One of the biggest confectioners in France, located in Provence, bears his name, specializing in the local cookie-candy called calisson. You can find them even up here in Paris.

THE CHEESE: Tomme au Vin Jaune

Tomme au Vin Jaune is a raw cows' milk cheese from the Jura. It's a pate pressee, meaning the paste of the cheese is pressed to squeeze out the liquid and set it. During the aging process, the cheese is rubbed continually with white wine from the region. And in the end, it makes for a funky twist on the usual mountain cheeses. There's a definite sweetness and tang that comes through the usual nutty mountain cow flavors. I describe it as grape-y, probably because I know it's made with wine, so my mind just goes there. One vendor I find describes it as having notes of curry. I can't say I get that, but the wine certainly does add a complexity and unusual flavor you don't find in all cheeses.

The cheese is a hard cheese, but really more of an almost-hard cheese. In fact, it's delightfully creamy. This if one of the few cheeses where even I cut off the crust to eat it. I doubt it would kill you, but I'm quite sure it wouldn't please you, either. It's very dry, and even imprinted with a design of fern leaves.


King René is not associated with cheese, but if he were to take a nibble, I'm sure he would have preferred one brushed with wine, like this Tomme au Vin Jaune, which comes from near the Lorraine area he possessed, lost, and battled over several times in his life. Like the Chenin Blanc wine made from grapes grown at his castle vineyard in Angers, the wine used here is white (or, more specifically, yellow, as called out in the name of the cheese).


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