On June 9th, 2016, we climbed aboard an 8:00 AM bus to the Jura, a legislative department of France which lies in the mountains northeast of the Burgundy region (and also the region from which the Jurassic era takes its name). Our first stop was Salins-les-bains, a medieval town which became very wealthy by extracting salt from natural saltwater springs there. We descended into the salt mine and watched a 150 year old pump (which was powered by a water wheel) work to bring brine 246 meters from the underground salt spring. After a delicious lunch nearby (including wine made from local chardonnay grapes), we made our way to a place called Montigny-les-Arsures. Here, we visited a vineyard where Louis Pasteur used to grow grapes for use in his experiments on the fermentation and preservation of wine in the mid 1800’s. Next we went to Arbois, where Pasteur grew up and spent most of his life. After checking into our hotel in Arbois, we walked a mere 200 meters to Pasteur’s former home. Inside this small, but impressive museum, everything has been kept more or less the same since Pasteur lived hear more than a century ago. Even his laboratory – complete with chemical flow hoods, sealed flasks of beef broth sterilized more than 120 years ago, and even one of his famous sterilized swan-neck flasks – still remains completely intact and virtually untouched in this museum.
After exploring Pasteur’s former home and laboratory, our group walked over to a different part of Arbois for a wine tasting. There, we sampled wines from across the Jura. First up was a Crémant rosé – a type of sparkling wine, and then a Ploussard – a grape variety with a thin red skin grown in the Jura. Next was a Savignin – a peculiar tasting wine which ages for years untouched in oak barrels, where a layer of yeast protects the wine from oxidation, and then finally a Macvin – a young, sweet wine that has been prevented from undergoing much fermentation by having brandy or Marc added to it early during the winemaking process. This was the first wine tasting where I didn’t enjoy every wine we tasted. The Crémant rosé was probably my favorite, as I found the Savignin too heavy and strong-tasting for my liking, although it did have an interesting flavor. The Ploussard was light and almost tasteless, and the Macvin was far too sweet and syrupy.
After our wine tasting we went back to the hotel to rest for a short period and then walked down the road to a local restaurant, where we had a 4-course meal as a group. Although the food was delicious, I was full by the start of course 3, so I ended up skipping course 4 (dessert). However, I did have a spoonful of ice cream from one of my classmates plates, and it was also quite delicious. After our meal we walked back to the hotel and went to bed soon thereafter.
The next day (June 10th, 2016) we woke up at 7:00AM. After a shower and a quick breakfast, we checked out of our hotel in Arbois at 8:00AM and climbed aboard the bus once more. Our next stop was the Cooperative Dairy in the town of Morbier. On our way from Arbois to Morbier we snaked through mountain roads and passed steep limestone cliffs and deep, lush valleys. We also saw a fair amount of Montbéliard cows (a special breed raised in this area to provide the milk used to make the local cheeses), particularly as we approached the Morbier dairy cooperative. After arriving at the cooperative, we watched workers add rennet to baths of milk to facilitate the curdling process. While the milk curdled, we watched a short film detailing how this dairy operates to produce about 13,000 cheese rounds a year, each of which weighs about 40 kg (88 lbs). After the curdling process and the short film were complete, we watched workers drain and press the curds in stainless steel molds.
Then, we went next door to the aging rooms, where 9000 of these 40 kg cheeses sat on wooden shelves cut from local spruce trees. Inside each aging chamber, cheeses of different ages were kept at various temperatures. In addition, some of the rooms used misters to raise the humidity to match that of a natural cave or underground cellar.
We then returned to the main building to purchase some cheeses and other items for our picnic later in the day. I bought a half kilo of 12 month old Comté cheese, a hard cheese which has a smooth, creamy texture and a complex, distinct flavor. Next we hopped into the bus once more and made our way to the village of Baume-Les-Messieurs, which is nestled within a river valley and flanked by gorgeous limestone cliffs towering hundreds of feet above the town.
At Baume-Les-Messieurs, we visited an old church and former abbey, where the man who founded the Cluny abbey has his origins. Then our group drove a short distance along the road and stopped to have a picnic near a beautiful waterfall.