Abbaye de Fontevraud

Here are some photos from a recent visit to the Abbaye de Fontevraud, originally constructed to be something of a utopian city (ruled by women, no less) by Robert d’Arbrissel.  Throughout the trajectory of its history, however, the micro-city took on a motley variety of identities, as the site of a royal tomb (housing the remains of Henry II, Richard the Lion Heart, and Eleanor of Aquitaine), monastic city, penitentiary (until 1985!), cultural center, and UNESCO world heritage site.

 

(the nearby Chateau de Montsoreau)

(champignonerie (mushroom-erie) built into the rocks of Montsoreau)

 

Truffles: The Quest for {Culinary} Black Gold

I knew that pigs are used to hunt for truffles, but not dogs.  So when I learned that there is a particular breed with the innate ability to sniff out the esteemed fungi, the Lagotto Romagnolo.

I was lucky enough to join in on a truffle hunt in Burgundy, home of the Burgundian truffle (Tuber aestivum).  A different species than the more well-known black truffle (Tuber melanosporum) which grows in the Perigord region, the Burgundian version is equally delicious (I recommend it thinly sliced in a simple salad of garden-fresh lettuce and vinagrette, if you are lucky enough to get your hands on them!).

Truffles can be cultivated, in a sense, by taking advantage of the symbiotic relationship between the truffles’ mycelia and the root system of certain types of trees, such as cedars, oaks, and hazels.  If a grove is planted in the appropriate soil conditions (the Burgundian truffle prefers calcarious soil types), the mycelia, or underground component of the fungus, will follow the roots of the trees as they grow up (providing the appropriate shaded and forested conditions), establishing the necessary conditions for truffle production.

The truffle hunter can attempt to search for the prized fungi by himself, but as they are often present as deep as 30 centimeters below the surface, he isn’t likely to have much luck alone.  Luckily, he has several tools available at his disposal – pigs, dogs, and flies.  The difficulty with pigs and dogs is that they must be trained not to eat their spoils.  But this is likely a simpler task than keeping track of your fly!

Though this hasn’t been a great year for truffle hunting, with the help of two canine noses we managed to walk away with a decent harvest!

Château du Clos de Vougeot

While in Burgundy this past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit the Château du Clos de Vougeot, home of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.  Located between the villages of Vougeot and Nuits-St-Georges, both well known for their wines.

The chateau was built in the 12th century and used by the monks of the Abbey of Cîteaux.  The four enormous presses and wooden vats,  still present in the castle today, were used by the monks to produce wine from surrounding vineyards.

In 1941 the castle was sold to the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin for the symbolic price of 1 franc, on the condition that they would restore the property that had been badly damaged during World War II.  The Confrérie had been created in 1934 in an effort to revitalize the global market for Burgundian wines, which had been negatively impacted by the global economic crisis.

Today the 12,000 chevaliers worldwide continue to celebrate Burgundian wines and culture during many grand events or “chapitres” throughout the year, often featuring distinguished guests and always featuring the wines and cuisine of the region.

Views of the vineyards of Clos de Vougeot: