The Burgundians know how to celebrate. For December’s festival of St Nicolas, food is the order of the day, and plenty of it writes ROSI HANSON .
In the pretty village of Meursault on the Côte de Beaune, Domaine Roulot has vines in three of the first growths – Charmes, Perrières and Bouchères – along with many well-placed vineyards like Tessous and Les Luchets. It is one of the most highly regarded in the village. Jean-Marc Roulot is an actor, working in film, TV and on the stage, as well as being at the cutting edge of white wine making. Over a glass of wine at his house, a converted mill with a stream running under it, he sighs nostalgically. ‘I will never eat like that again!’ He is thinking back to family feasts of his childhood celebrating the festival of St Nicolas, patron saint of Meursault’s 15th-century church.
From his youth, he vividly remembers the meals prepared by his grandmother and great-aunt. Roulot’s grandfather was a keen hunter and, happily, the feast of St Nicolas falls on 6 December, when the hunting season is in full swing. The dishes of game were fabulous. ‘The cooking was very rich, perhaps too rich for modern taste, but they created sauces that were extraordinary,’ says Roulot. ‘People just don’t know how to cook like that any more.
The atmosphere was very special, intimate, an occasion especially for the family to be together, lots of us children. C’était tres joyeux. We sat down at midday on the Sunday and only left the table in late afternoon to go to the fair. After that there would be a supper of soup, cold meats and salads. The next day we started again! We didn’t finish until Monday evening – in those days there was no school on that Monday.’ No doubt the schoolchildren today in Meursault regret the loss of this particular tradition.
Nowadays, Meursault families who still celebrate in the old way, rather than going to a restaurant (a trend disapproved of by Roulot as being the antithesis of the spirit of the occasion) choose a slightly lighter menu. It is still a copious meal by most people’s standards. Traditional Burgundian specialities like snails stuffed with garlic and parsley butter may be followed by jambon persillé. This famous local dish of ham in a wine jelly that is green with parsley can be bought by the slice in any of the many charcuteries of the Côte d’Or. This, however, would be a mistake, says Mme Jobard, wife of grower François, who has holdings in Meursault’s first growth vineyards Genevrières and Poruzots, among others.
Mme Jobard is scornful of shop-bought jambon. The trouble, she says, is that the charcutiers stint on the white wine, using vinegar in the cooking instead and it is simply not the same. She puts her ham, after soaking it in cold water overnight, in a large pan with a calf’s foot, onions, carrots, leeks, garlic and a bouquet garni; she then pours in enough white wine to cover it generously, brings it to the boil and simmers it gently for three hours. While the ham is cooling separately, chopped parsley is infused in the stock. The ham is sliced and layered, with plenty more parsley, into a bowl – traditionally a white salad bowl. The stock is poured over to cover. After a few hours in the fridge, the jelly has set and the dish is ready.
In a white wine village like Meursault a fish course is considered obligatory. Once this would have been a pôchouse, a mixture of freshwater fish, including pike, perch, eels, tench and carp, cooked in a fumet made from a bottle of Meursault and a glass of marc de Bourgogne. This is served with garlic croutons in a sauce made from the reduced fumet and a little crème fraîche. Few people make this now, not surprisingly, as it is hard to get hold of the fish unless you catch them yourself. Instead, monkfish or salmon in a cream sauce is often the choice.
Red wines from nearby Volnay or Pommard are matched with coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, or venison and wild boar from the local forests if there is a hunter in the family. Chez Jobard they might serve a fillet of beef, or, best of all, says Mme Jobard, a roast goose with chestnuts braised in stock. When it comes to the cheese board there will probably be something local. This could be a Cîteaux, made at the Cistercian monastery, 10 minutes’ drive east of Nuits-St-Georges, or an Epoisses de Bourgogne AC, made at the Ferme du Colombier at Sivry, near Arnay le Duc where the roof of the château is as vividly coloured as that of the Hospices de Beaune.
By now the children are agitating to go to the fair. Just time for dessert, and to sip a glass of marc de Bourgogne to keep out the chill. The Roulot family has its own still and can draw on stocks of properly aged marc. Roulot takes his son Félicien, who, after doing the rounds of the attractions, follows the smell of gauffres (waffles) to the stall where they are being cooked and somehow finds room for one.
There will be more gauffres to eat a few weeks later in January when the village celebrates the feast of St Vincent. Each year the statuette of St Vincent, patron saint of wine growers, passes to a different family. Together with the family who have just had it and the one who will receive it the following year, they throw a party. On the Friday evening of the festive weekend 4,500 gauffres are consumed, washed down by a good many bottles of Aligoté. It takes a team of 10 the whole day to prepare the batter, using 110 kilos of flour. This was another favourite event of Roulot’s childhood, and now his son looks forward to it each year with the same enthusiasm. ‘Tout Meursault, ils vont aux gauffres – on invite généreusement [everyone in Meursault goes to the gauffres – invitations are generously issued],’ he says with satisfaction, happy that some things do not change. Indeed, in this village, which is one of the largest of the Côte de Beaune, family traditions and a sense of community are alive and well.
Rosi Hanson is a freelance cookery writer.
Written by ROSI HANSON