On Monday, June 6th, our group prepared for another excursion. We all climbed aboard the bus at 8:30 AM to travel to the Fromagerie Gaugry (The Gaugry Cheese Factory) in Brochon, France. This impressive industrial cheese factory creates thousands of cheeses per day, including Époisses, Soumentrain, and other famous washed rind soft cheeses.
Washed rind cheeses are unique in that they are rubbed by hand with a brine, brandy, or wine solution during ripening. This process provides extra moisture to the cheese, thereby promoting the growth of bacteria such as Brevibacteria linens, which gives this cheese its characteristic orange color. After viewing the production line through glass windows, we made our way to a small dining room area where we tasted some of the cheeses that had been produced in this facility. By varying the solution they were washed in, the amount of ripening, the qualities of the milk used, and other parameters, the Fromagerie Gaugry was able to create a wide variety of cheeses with subtle flavor variations. I enjoyed the Soumantrain the most, and luckily our host remarked that this cheese is available in the United States under the name Saint-Soleil. One of the other cheeses had a consistency much like that of cream cheese, and our host mentioned it had about a 75% fat content, while others had a strong aroma reminiscent of straw or a cow barn. After tasting these cheeses, I also purchased a Sainte-Maure de Touraine AOP goat cheese to try.
After our wine tasting we made our way to a local park to have a picnic. I had a smoked salmon sandwich with cheese, onion, and lettuce, accompanied with a glass of red wine.
Next we visited the Clos de Vougeaut, a famous locality in the region of Cote de nuits (itself within the region of Burgundy) which consists of about 50 hectares of Grand Cru and Premier Cru (i.e. the first and second highest designations of French wine-producing regions, respectively) vines, which are enclosed by a stone wall (i.e. clos). This clos used to be owned by a local abbey in the early 1700’s but was sold off to local farmers after the French Revolution. Today, this land produces some of the most expensive wines in Burgundy, if not the whole world. We also viewed a nearby chateau which used to serve as a vacation home for the local Abbot. Today, it has been turned into a museum and banquet hall. In the museum section, our group looked at 18th century wine presses, and as we passed the banquet hall, Dr. Healey mentioned that an international fraternity of wine conisseurs meets here each year for a formal dinner.
Next we continued on to a nearby plot of vines to meet a local Frenchman who makes a living by plowing vineyards each spring. However, unlike most wine makers in the region, this man tills the land the old fashioned way – using a horse-drawn plow. By doing so, he was able to control the weeds that would otherwise compete with the grapevines, while also ensuring that the soil remains aerated and uncompacted. As he explained, using tractors and other machines to perform such tasks causes compaction of the soil and expels air from the soil, thereby limiting microbial growth. Using the horse drawn plow, on the other hand, results in minimal soil compaction and much less damage to the precious 50+ year old grapevines.
The next day (June 7th) was spent inside the classroom at our hostel learning about Wine Grapes, Wine making, as well as the Phylloxera aphid, powdery mildew, and other grapevine/wine pathogens. We also discussed genetically modified organisms, the role of chlorinated aromatic compounds (which Dr. Haggblom studies) in the flavor of “corked” wine (i.e. wine which has been exposed to oxygen via a compromised cork). I learned that some microbes, including fungi, can increase the toxicity of chlorinated aromatic compounds by methylating them at an aromatic hydroxyl functional group. This causes them to become much more nonpolar, allowing them to bioaccumulate in fat deposits within the body.
The following day (June 8th) was also spent inside the classroom. On this day we learned about preservatives/preservation, pickling, vinegar, salt mining and production, wastewater treatment/biogas production, whey as an aqueous biological feedstock/wastewater byproduct. I learned that some organisms are able to run the citric acid cycle in reverse (with some minor variation to bypass the irreversible steps) in order to fix CO2 into organic carbon.