Rousseau de Poulet Chaud
Once upon a time students bought hot chicken and sat under the statue of the great man consuming their lunch with hardly a thought about the wise words he passed down to us. In the 1990s a fast-food fad caught on in supermarkets close to railway stations across western Europe – whole hot roast chicken. Generally it was good everywhere, except for one place – the Manor supermarket on the Rue Rousseau, not far from the gaze of the great philosopher – where it was exceptional, full of flavour, succulent … and greasy.
Rousseau, in quiet contemplation, never seemed to disapprove, even when you wiped your hands in the snow under this gaze. It was a running joke that when you bought hot chicken you were never served hand napkins at the chicken counter, you were expected to supply them yourself.
So we are disappointed to learn that the Manor no longer has hot chicken. That would have made a nice start to this wonderful journey.
Time to travel to the terroir!
Genève Cornavin to Coppet (train) 31 minutes
Lake Léman Express
Jean-Jacques Rousseau saw the future when he lived in the Duchy of Savoy. He predicted the potential for Geneva and the hinterland. Now that the whole region has been shrunk by the Léman public transport system, it must be said this was obvious.
We are having these philosophical thoughts because we can imagine what Rousseau would say about a railway tunnel underneath the city of his birth. ‘I am intrigued by your perspectives, none reconcile our condition.’
So we are going to follow the sensibilities of those who want to experience this urban-suburban cross-border network – six lines that connect 45 stations over 230 kilometres. Via the new underground rail link between Geneva and Annemasse we will be in that hinterland before we have time to think.
For us it is a journey through space and time. It begins in the past, continues in the present and ends, if at all, in the future! There is nothing remarkable about this journey. What is remarkable is the traditional food of the Alps. It is rooted in the past and it is fixed in the present. Every one of the Alpine countries has a strong fidelity with its food traditions, none more than the region once ruled by the House of Savoy.
Coppet to La Roche sur Foron (train) 67 minutes
Reblochon de Savoie
Here at La Roche-sur-Foron we must make a decision – remain on our Léman Express train for a ride along the plain to Annecy or exit to the bus outside for a ride into the mountains. In the sky above us is a pleasant valley where they make one of the most delicious cheeses in the world – Val de Thônes, spiritual home of the creamy cheese known as Reblochon.
The story of this cheese was legendary before it became popular. A long time ago the monks of Abondance monastery in the high mountains above Lac Léman created pastures in the Chablais valley, then developed a breed of cow that would produce high quantities of milk, to allow them to make cheese. This Alpine cheese was served at high table in Avignon during the period when the popes reigned in the 1300s. At this time farmers were obliged to pay tax based on the volume of milk produced. To pay less tax farmers in the Thônes valley partially milked their cows, then secretly went back to collect the milk used for cheese. This became known as the re-blocher method, pinching the udder a second time. Reblochon is formed into 500 gram and 230 gram rounds. Delicately arranged on thin circles of spruce, it is the essential ingredient for several traditional dishes, and we want to know why Reblochon Fermier has more taste than Reblochon Fruitier.
Our ultimate destination is Le Farto, Cooperative du Reblochon Fermier in Thônes. This is where the cow herders make Reblochon with raw milk from their own farm, fermier, compared to fruitier, which is made with milk collected from several farms.
We were told to get a Proxim iTi (proximity route) bus to Saint-Jean-de-Sixt and change to the Mont Blanc ski-bus for Thônes. We look out the window. The sky has turned grey and apparently rain is forecast. Perhaps another day.
La Roche sur Foron to Annecy (train) 34 minutes
… and so it goes. Extracts from early drafts can be found here, more extracts below.
This is a Fricot book. In the future trips like these will be commonplace because in the future the world will be sustainable and only produce that is indigenous and local will feature in the food that is brought to the kiosk and to the table. If you want to eat what the Danish or the Turkish eat you will have to travel to Denmark and Turkey, and everywhere across the world where the food is authentic. And in places where food traditions once existed there will be immense satisfaction from the pleasure of eating local produce assembled from the knowledge of history. We are what we eat and we will eat what we know and not what someone tells us we shoud eat because we have lost the culinary skills of the ancients and acquired the habits of the machine and celebrity cultures. Everyone will be used to eating food that is made from local food produce and from artisanal food products. Home cooks and professional chefs will take pleasure in producing and re-producing dishes based on traditional recipes that are rooted in the people-place-produce mantra that will ensure that no one will have to suffer starvation because someone decided that what we need to eat is a commodity. Everyone deserves to eat the food that is simply produced, fresh and local, and not from distant lands.