13 June 2011

jura bike trip: macvin ice cream at le grand jardin, baume-les-messieurs

One thing I noted in the Jura was the relative abundance of artisanal ice creams I saw advertised in village after village there. It wasn't, like, the Ile St. Louis or anything, but it was noticeable. I expect it has something to do with the region's other chief industry,* the production of comté. Most villages are home to at least one fruitière, or cooperative cheesemaking operation, often linked with local winemaking cooperatives.

During our pit stop in Arbois on the first day we'd gotten ice cream from a stand whose brand I forget. The ice cream, too, was forgettable - like bad gelato, oversweetened, with far too much air in it. Nevertheless we decided to give Jura ice cream another try on our way back from Domaine Macle, when our attempts to go see the abbey at Baume-Les-Messieurs** were frustrated by a major repaving operation. On our way out of town we found ourselves admiring an older gentleman's vintage motorcycle on the terrace of a restaurant called Le Grand Jardin.

Initially we planned to just get apéros. But we'd just had some fairly weighty, consequential wines earlier than afternoon, before more sunbeaten uphill biking. Ice cream was more appealing, and - the clincher - they had some amusing regional flavors, such as Macvin.

Macvin is the Pineau des Charentes of the Jura: a blend of grape must and grape distillate, or marc, whence the portmanteau name. (I've always thought the word would make a good name for an MC.) It's one of those puzzling outmoded never-quite-appropriate beverages whose continued production, I'd wager, owes a lot to the fact that it's made from winemaking waste products. (C.f. Grappa.) For an apéro it's a bit lourd; during meals it's unthinkable; for dessert I prefer the distillate straight. (I.e. Grappa, again, or Christian et Audrey Binner's lovely range of eaux de vie.)

I've always figured the best use of Macvin is as a stunt apéritif : like the apéro version of an amuse-bouche, something flavorful enough to flush faces, something you have one bite of and then move on. But, as we discovered that day, it's nice in ice cream, too: broad, red-appley, honey-nutty.

Our friend E took an absinthe sorbet, also very refreshing. We all could have done without the rock-hard trompe-l'oeil meringue topping each of the cups, but on the whole they were actually very fine ice creams.

We were in mid-savor, congratulating each other on having turned up an unanticipated local charm, when the nearby older gentlemen fired up his vintage motorcycle over the course of some four straight minutes right in front of us, stopping conversation and bathing everyone in alarmingly repellant exhaust fumes. It was like the thing had been fueled with farm runoff, or something.

We gagged and set down our spoons and waved the oblivious fellow off very vigorously.

* Actually, as one of the world's most popular cheeses, with annual production figures in the realm of 50,000 tons, comté is presumably the chief industry, with wine coming a distant second. I tried to find figures on France's total AOC cheese production, so as to put comté production in perspective, but source after source on the net just quotes the same 50k production figure. Evidently I'm not the only writer unwilling to ferret out original cheese statistics.

** A famously picturesque village wedged between cliffs south of Château-Chalon. I was unable to avoid mentally mistranslating the name as 'Bone these gentlemen.'

Related Links:

Jura Bike Trip: Excuses
Jura Bike Trip: Saline Royal d'Arc et Senans
Jura Bike Trip: Anecdotes from a Brocante in Arbois
Jura Bike Trip: Our Overnoy Oversight
Jura Bike Trip: Chez Bindernagel: Les Jardins Sur Glantine
Jura Bike Trip: Marmara Kebab, Poligny
Jura Bike Trip: Picnic Dans Les Vignes, Château-Chalon
Jura Bike Trip: Domaine Macle

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