Burgundy, Part I
Burgundy. The Bourgogone. I used to think of heavy overly wine-laden rich floured sauces that put people to sleep. I used to think of this region as a good place to have a large bulbous glass of either wan and sugary stuff, or heavy earthy wine closed up secret and tight like a monk would encase the bones of a saint. The good ones teased me with a promise of heavenly bliss years down the line. I always had a feeling of a bit of remorse and dread that I could not ever afford to buy it once its flavors had opened up and its character had reached full majestic maturity (this was before we had the cave of course, now at least we can hope...). I believed that Burgundy was a place to have a gargantuan ladle of meaty stew, to drink young robust wine before its time and to lie down and take a nice long nap, but I was wrong.
If you do make Lyon home base for a gastronomic discovery tour, a day trip to the Burgundy is completely do-able and actually a wonderful idea. There are things to find there that depart completely from anything you'll find in in this city. One hour's drive north can take you to the heart of it. Burgundy of course would never claim to be a part of Lyon, although you might find some restaurants in the more touristy areas that feature their interpretations of Lyonnais specialties. There are other things to look for in the Bourgogne.
When I think of the English word Burgundian, history professors' lectures still linger. Of course my imagination ran wild as tales were recounted. Images marched rote through my mind in mnemonic detail on timelines. Now they are like flashbacks: Medieval armor clad knights jousting. Battles with Huns, Roman conquests, and landscapes ravaged by war and betrayal. Joan of Arc was kidnapped by the Burgundians and sold to the English to be burned at the stake. Did you know that? Thick short towers constructed in the dark ages, viciously defended by Cisterian monks and the intrigue behind little spy holes in six foot thick stone walls. Moats and draw bridges. Big breasted wet nurses lined up along their beds of hay while the mothers lined up with their own swelling bosoms along banquet tables creaking with gluttonous feasts hosted by the hordes of megalomen ready to swear their oath and take power, or die. And well of course, the cheese. But that came later. Lord, Please forgive me for my indulgences in Burgundian cheeses. Well, At least I won't get osteoporosis.
The land of Bourgogne has in fact been divided, conquored, traded, given up, fought for, granted as gifts by kid Charlemagne, sectioned off, sold, raped, tunneled through by force of the sword, and been host to long periods of mayhem and slaughter. It is a land that has been defended by its men, women, and children to the very tooth. It still is.
Aside from its land having been a geographically strategic buffer between warring factions and capitals in times of shifting boundaries and conquests, the Bourgogne in essence is the epicenter of the creation of French identity. In Burgundy the land has always been of infinite importance. The terroir. You can see this pride in Burgundian eyes today.
In the 21st century, when you go and breathe the air there and take a look around, the shadows and time lines and not so mysterious gratuitous violence in the history of this region is swept away on an early summer breeze. The historical matrix is filled out with a whole new spectrum of lightness, color, lyme and mineral rich steppes. Telling you what makes Burgundy different from the rest and how I think it does interact with Lyon may inspire you to give some real Burgundian cooking a try once you get back. It might make you think a little bit more about the wine, especially the whites, which can be surprising and beautiful.
You have to ask why so much precious stereotype has been dismissively penned over and over about the gastronomy of Burgundy region and why they can't seem to get much further than you know, those dishes. Is it that the people who wrote about didn't actually go there to write about it, or did they only speak from the voice of distant memory? Were they working on a huge work that was tiring them and in a hurry to get on down past through and to the next Michelin starred restaurant where they might be coddled and felt more appreciated and less - defended against? I haven't figured it out yet. But it won't stop me from giving Burgundy a try this summer.
In terms of research material, In French, there are a few interesting tomes that record old original cooking from the region in the ancient collections reading room at the municipal library here. I will get some inspiration from them, but the real discovery this summer will come from actual kitchens there. Hopefully I will have a chance to absorb the stories that normally hover like halos around people cooking in them.
My approach will begin with the wine and as I discover dishes that use that kind of wine, I'll ask the women who prepare them in their kitchens to show me how its done in their homes. This is the only way, really.
Next article, The White Burgundy Wines (don't worry, the food and recipes will come!)