Wednesday, October 2, 2013

130 Miles of Food

Poached Eggs in Melted Epoisses
Burgundy Road Trip

Imagine you are taking a California road trip.  You are starting in Santa Monica, ultimately destined for San Diego. But before leaving the swaying palms of this famous stretch of beach, you stop for a bite to eat.  It doesn’t really matter which restaurant, diner or taco shack you end up at, in this imaginary Southern California the eateries of this town all serve the same local specialty.  We’ll call this special dish “Eggs Santa Monica”: poached eggs perched atop avocado, oven roasted tomatoes, and a thick slice of grilled country bread.

Fortified, you hop in your car for the 30-mile drive to Long Beach.  You have heard that though Long Beach and Santa Monica fall within the same county lines, there is a completely different specialty here, a dish that has a place on every Long Beach restaurant menu.  We’ll call it, “Eggs Long Beach”: two fried eggs on black beans with pico de gallo. 

So your trip continues, stopping 20 miles later in Newport Beach, 30 miles after that in San Clemente, then Carlsbad, then La Jolla, and finally downtown San Diego.  At each city stop you find a dish that is both completely unique to that town, found in virtually every restaurant in that town, yet almost nowhere outside those town limits.

Winemaker Cyril Audoin (left), me and a travel companion
Sounds a bit wild?  Well for anyone that has traversed the famous routes of France, particularly along the verdant Burgundy corridor, that is pretty much the experience. 

The distance from Chablis, the northernmost part of Burgundy to Macon in the south is approximately 134 miles, the same distance from Santa Monica to San Diego.  In place of the pristine California coastline, the road trip in Burgundy is graced with mile upon mile of some of the world’s best grapevines and, as I found on a recent wine tasting trip, excellent food.

With each village boasting it’s own unique wine identity- from the ancient oyster shell bed that gives Chablis is distinctive taste to sun-ripened chardonnays of the Côte Chalonnaise- perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised to find the same proud individuality can be found in their cuisine.

Oeufs meurette- poached eggs in red wine sauce
Just north of the Burgundy border, in a small village in Champagne, the local bistro was serving one of the most famous dishes of its neighbor appellation.  Oeufs meurette, is a dish of poached eggs served in a red wine (classically Burgundy) sauce often with a scattering of bacon lardon.  Here the red wine was reduced down to an unctuous concentration but retained enough acidity to act as a foil for the golden yolk as the punctured sack released its insides.  As I wiped the last drops of the egg and wine sauce from my plate with a torn piece of baguette, it occurred to me that French bread may exist solely for the sopping up of that delicious mess.

A few days later sitting down to an al fresco lunch in Fixin, a village in the north of the Côte d’Or, poached eggs were again on the menu, but here with a whiff of fromage.  On our drive from Chablis to the heart of Burgundy, our car had passed the village of Époisses.  It is in that village that they make a famous orange rind, soft-ripened cow’s milk cheese of the same name. In Fixin the restaurant was serving this cheese, rind removed and melted down to a creamy puddle, as the sauce for two poached eggs.  Our winemaker host, Cyril Audoin of the nearby Domaine Charles Audoin, told us this was a dish we would only find there.  Indeed, as we continued our drive south, never again did I encounter the eggs in Époisses. The decadent slurry of yolk and liquid cheese was left behind, a signpost on the journey.

At this point eggs took a bit of a back seat to meat.  They would reappear further south in the Rhone Valley, notably in a dish of scrambled eggs with black truffle, but for the moment my attention shifted to the cured meats of the region.

Bucolic pasture and vineyard behind Domaine Danjean-Berthoux
If ever there was a way to layer meats in a pan and preserve them- suspended in aspic or sealed beneath a layer of fat- it seems the French have done it all. Burgundy, particularly this mouth-watering stretch of the Cote d’Or, has (surprise) a terrine you can find almost exclusively there: jambon persillé. Unlike its more delicate siblings, this terrine is traditionally made of roughly torn pieces of unsmoked, salt-cured ham (think prosciutto as opposed to Easter ham).  The shredded pork is set with a “jelly” of seasoned white wine and a small forest of parsley.  The result is a lovely mess of a terrine, stunning in the marble of pink meat and leafy green herbs.

Jambon Persille, right front
Our traveling party found this dish practically everywhere in the Côte d’Or.  At the supermarket in Beaune, we had the butcher cut off a brick sized slab.  We nibbled on the ham for days back in our rented house in Chassagne.  On restaurant menus it was a given that it would appear on a charcuterie spread.  It was no surprise then at lunch in Givry, hosted by winemaker Pascal Danjean, a small bowl-sized jambon persillé materialized as part of our appetizer course, naturally homemade by Pascal’s lovely wife.

It would be near impossible to imagine the drive from Santa Monica to San Diego, or any 130-mile drive in the United States for that matter, claiming as many unique, traditional dishes as I found in Burgundy. To think Burgundy is only one of twenty-seven regions in France.  If a place is best explored through its food, looks like I have some more road trips, and a lot more eating, in my future.

Breaking for a merguez sandwich and Grand Cru Burgundy at a roadside restaurant.
Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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