Tag: Brisolée Produce

Cooked, Cured, Curdled | The Story of Traditional Food in Europe – Part 2

From the attic window in the alpine chalet, a fine mist can be seen hovering over the valley in the pubescent dawn, the sun still to rise over the mountain peaks. Gradually, as the morning lengthens its shadows, the mist will dissipate, the valley light will shimmer in the promise of a clear day and the high mountains will be framed by a blue window. 

This momentary vista is a mere glimpse of the absolute magic of the Rhône Valley, in high summer a sumptuous land full of growth, at summer’s end a mystical land like this morning. All the way from the expanse of the lake known as Léman where cormorants gaze into the water from the rocks at Château de Chillon to the magnificence of the Aletsch Glacier where chamois look askance at solitary hikers high above the longitudinal plain of the Rhône, Ursern and Upper Rhine, this Swiss valley canton offers something unique in the world.

It is the first week of October. The grapes have been harvested, the chestnuts have been collected and apples, apricots and pears have been dried and pulped and fermented and left whole for those who like their fruit fresh. Tweaks have been made to apple pie recipes. New wines have been selected. Rounds of mountain cheese have been declared ready. Legs of beef, cured with salt and spices, steamed and dried for up to six weeks in airy attics – curing and drying techniques first recorded in the 14th century in the Valley – are delicately sliced. Batches of rye bread have been baked. Finally the apples pies have been prepared … and baked. Everyone is ready!

Hand-picking sweet chestnuts from the woods alongside the Rhône under the high peaks is an old tradition of the people. Traditionally the chestnuts were roasted over an open fire, taken inside and served with chunks of mature mountain cheese accompanied by fresh grapes, pieces of apple and pear, grape (must) juice or young wine to wash everything down. Nothing unusual there, just the typical country fare of the canton.

Except this is brisolée, the autumn harvest plate of the people who tend the land where the Rhône is joined by the Dranse at the acute turn eastwards into the valley below the Bernese Alps at Martigny. Here chestnuts abound between the river, the town of Martigny and the adjacent village of Fully, where the annual chestnut fair is more than a celebration, it is an event characterised by the traditional produce and artisanal products of the valley.

We are in Sion, a town with a rich food heritage, in the Coop supermarket, staring at history staring back at us. Almost three generations ago the food producers of this valley saw the future.

The Story of Traditional Food in Europe – Part 1

On August 7, 1953 apricot growers and their supporters besieged the small town of Saxon in the Swiss Valais canton to protest about the huge amount of Italian imports they claimed inhibited the sale of their produce. Freight trains carrying the Italian imports were looted and burned. The railway line and main road through the Rhône valley were blocked for several days. Consequently an agreement was made to restrict the foreign imports to aid the sale of the domestic produce.

Eight years later the growers faced another challenge when hazardous emissions from a factory in Martigny began to damage their crops. An eighteen year campaign finally brought sanctions against the factory owners and in 1982 the Swiss Federal Court issued an order for compensation to be paid to the growers.

Of the 176 apricot growers in the Valais today most develop the luizet variety, supplying two-thirds of the one million kilos needed to make approximately 120,000 bottles of 70 cl abricotine at the distillery in Martigny.

Two hundreds years after they were first cultivated in the Rhône valley, apricots (and apricot brandy) are now established in the food culture of the region, the warm, dry Valais climate perfect for the sensitive luizet. Planted on the south-facing embankments of the valley, apricot trees thrive in the alluvial soil.

The indigenous luizet pear of the Valais is one story, there are many more.

Today we can take a coffee in the cafe and stare at a wall with several declarations about the fidelity and proximity of the local produce. This picture is now commonplace across Switzerland, where there is a will and a way among the food producers to make the confederation food security sustainable without the need to rely on imports that would threaten the integrity of the indigenous produce.

The Story of Traditional Food in Europe – Part 3

Parts 3 to 7 are imminent. 
After that Cooked Cured Curdled will be an occasional series 
for a total of 120 parts.

About the Author

Robert Allen is a founder member of the Fricot Project, an editorial advisor with Editions Fricot and a baker with Fricot Experimental Kitchen and School. A journalist since the late 1970s, he has specialised in the history and reality of traditional food in Europe since 1991 as an advocate of sustaintable food security. He has been a specialist baker since the 1980s, and is co-author, with Fricot researcher Anne Addicott, of Brötchen, the hand-made breads pocket book.

THE FRONT PAGE

BLUE WINDOW | A Walk in the Woods

From the attic window in the alpine chalet, a fine mist can be seen hovering over the valley in the pubescent dawn, the sun still to rise over the mountain peaks. Gradually, as the morning lengthens its shadows, the mist will dissipate, the valley light will shimmer in the promise of a clear day and the high mountains will be framed by a blue window. 

This momentary vista is a mere glimpse of the absolute magic of the Rhône Valley, in high summer a sumptuous land full of growth, at summer’s end a mystical land like this morning. All the way from the expanse of the lake known as Léman where cormorants gaze into the water from the rocks at Château de Chillon to the magnificence of the Aletsch Glacier where chamois look askance at solitary hikers high above the longitudinal plain of the Rhône, Ursern and Upper Rhine, this Swiss valley canton offers something unique in the world.

It is the first week of October. The grapes have been harvested, the chestnuts have been collected and apples, apricots and pears have been dried and pulped and fermented and left whole for those who like their fruit fresh. Tweaks have been made to apple pie recipes. New wines have been selected. Rounds of mountain cheese have been declared ready. Legs of beef, cured with salt and spices, steamed and dried for up to six weeks in airy attics and delicately sliced, are also ready. Batches of rye bread have been baked. Finally the apples pies have been prepared … and baked. Everyone is ready!

The legs of local cattle breeds are cured with salt and spices, steamed and dried for up to six weeks in airy attics – curing and drying techniques first recorded in the 14th century in the Valley.

Hand-picking sweet chestnuts from the woods alongside the Rhône under the high peaks is an old tradition of the people. Traditionally the chestnuts were roasted over an open fire, taken inside and served with chunks of mature mountain cheese accompanied by fresh grapes, pieces of apple and pear, grape (must) juice or young wine to wash everything down. Nothing unusual there, just the typical country fare of the canton.

Except this is brisolée, the autumn harvest plate of the people who tend the land where the Rhône is joined by the Dranse at the acute turn eastwards into the valley below the Bernese Alps at Martigny. Here chestnuts abound between the river, the town of Martigny and the adjacent village of Fully, where the annual chestnut fair is more than a celebration, it is an event characterised by the traditional produce and artisanal products of the valley.

Three elements of the autumnal brisolée © ST/swiss-image.ch

To fully appreciate this tradition the stranger must go native and go up.

There are several walks out of Martigny, all signposted in the familiar yellow well known to all hikers in Switzerland. We are starting at Martigny Croix where the railway line winds around the mountain into the adjacent Barnes valley. Beyond the old railway station building, there is a gravel path that rises gently past the rocky wide Dranse. With a sudden ascent the path turns sharply, climbing hard towards the hamlet of Les Ecoteaux. 

At 905 metres Les Ecoteaux is the tapered end of a ridge that separates the valleys of the Rhône and the Bagnes. This is not apparent deep among the stands of mixed conifer and deciduous trees. The switchback climb is arduous. Experienced walkers go slow, like mountain goats finding their way cautiously over firm ground. Gradually the path levels out onto a pleasant meadow, rising gently again towards the sprawling hamlet of Chemin, a settlement 250 metres higher. Here we consult the map, because we are facing a set of choices. To descend back down, to the town of Martigny, where the L-shaped Rhône slides into Lake Geneva, or continue upwards towards the Col des Planches, at 1411 metres the first high peak along the ascending ridge. 

At the splendid Col des Planches the path offers some respite, descending slightly more than 100 metres down to Le Placard, a panoramic viewpoint. Also a crossroads. Five paths test our resolve. Three go down, two go up! Always a good time to stop and contemplate. Eat. And make the correct choice. It is too far early for lunch, so we snack on sun-dried raisins, dried apricot halves, slivered almonds, crushed walnuts, whole hazelnuts, some wild berries, an energy bar of honeyed seeds and grains, apple juice and pear nectar. This raises our energy levels. Lunch is chunks of semi-hard cheese, wafers of air-dried beef, torn soft flatbread, a handful of spelt flakes and mineral water. That can wait. Although we are still hungry we need to continue – up or down that is the question? 

A meal not too dissimilar was found to have been eaten by a hunter on a different mission 5,300 years ago. Ötzi, a 45-year old, was found mummified by the ice in the borderland alps of Austria and Italy. His survival has become a revelation, because it has taught us that we face the same issues he did and we are not that much different, despite the generational gap. 

Anyone walking today in the high mountains without high-energy provisions might not meet the same fate that Ötzi suffered, but they would find themselves wondering why they did not respect the wild, and that would make them exactly like the ancient iceman. 

The most interesting path for us to take is the one that rises toward the ridge at Les Blisiers under the 2472 metre high peak of Pierre Avoi, towering over Verbier in the Bagnes valley and Saxon in the Rhône valley. It is interesting because the path runs alongside an intact Roman built viaduct. The Roman workers would also have been familiar  with a lunch made from berries, grains, roots and seeds. They might even have been fortunate enough to have had some kind of dried meat to savour, and perhaps a swig or two of wine from local grapes to allow it to linger. This makes us wonder how they got back down. We look at the map again. And there it is, a steep path that drops down into Saxon on the valley  flour. Anyway, before the descent, that lunch! 

Terra firma.

We are tired and decide to visit a hostelry that serves barley soup. After a hard walk, this enigmatic winter soup is a reminder of how little the world has actually changed over millennia – air-dried meat, barley, flatbread, nuts, seeds. It is hearty and conducive to well-being, just what we need. 

That hike was hard.

BLUE WINDOW | Food Travels in the Alps | Brisolée (autumn harvest buffet with chestnuts, cheese, fruit and wine)

BLUE WINDOW | Food Travels in the Alps | Brisolée (autumn harvest buffet with chestnuts, cheese, fruit and wine)

Three elements of the autumnal brisolée © ST/swiss-image.ch

From the attic window in the alpine chalet, a fine mist can be seen hovering over the valley in the pubescent dawn, the sun still to rise over the mountain peaks. Gradually, as the morning lengthens its shadows, the mist will dissipate, the valley light will shimmer in the promise of a clear day and the high mountains will be framed by a blue window. 

This momentary vista is a mere glimpse of the absolute magic of the Rhône Valley, in high summer a sumptuous land full of growth, at summer’s end a mystical land like this morning. All the way from the expanse of the lake known as Léman where cormorants gaze into the water from the rocks at Château de Chillon to the magnificence of the Aletsch Glacier where chamois look askance at solitary hikers high above the longitudinal plain, this Swiss valley canton offers something unique in the world.

It is the first week of October. The grapes have been harvested, the chestnuts have been collected and apples, apricots and pears have been dried and pulped and fermented and left whole. Tweaks have been made to apple pie recipes. New wines have been selected. Rounds of mountain cheese have been declared ready. Legs of beef have been salt-spice cured, air-dried and delicately sliced, also ready. Batches of rye bread have been baked. Finally the apples pies have been prepared … and baked. Everyone is ready!

chestnuts-in-pan-cutout-lowres

Hand-picking sweet chestnuts from the woods alongside the Rhône under the high peaks is an old tradition of the people. Traditionally the chestnuts were roasted over an open fire, taken inside and served with chunks of mature mountain cheese accompanied by fresh grapes, pieces of apple and pear, grape (must) juice or young wine to wash everything down. Nothing unusual there, just the typical country fare of the canton.

Except this is brisolée, the autumn harvest plate of the people who tend the land where the Rhône is joined by the Dranse at the acute turn eastwards into the valley below the Bernese Alps at Martigny.

Here chestnuts abound between the river, the town of Martigny and the adjacent village of Fully, where the annual chestnut fair is more than a celebration, it is an event characterised by brisolée and fondue and the traditional produce and products of the valley.

The roast chestnut, cheese and wine tradition morphed into a café culture in the Martigny-Fully region in the 1960s when café and restaurant owners realised they could replicate the domestic culture, and offer buffet-style versions of the original plate in a celebration of the change of the seasons.

Brisolée became a traditional dish with an appeal beyond the Martigny-Fully region. Now it is an aspect of the food culture in the Swiss-French speaking areas of the Valais and neighbouring Vaud along the Lac Léman shore. Chestnuts, cheese and wine remain the common denominators of the dish, except among those (including the organisers of the chestnut fair at Fully) who include other Valais products, such as the air-dried beef produced in the canton and various charcuterie. Deep red in colour, these thin slices of beef give off an aroma that is unique to their producers. They compliment brisolée.

In the home the older tradition prevails, with apple tart an integral component. The rye bread of the region is now an essential component of the café and fair culture, and sometimes a brisolée plate will contain roast chestnuts, cheese, rye bread and air-dried beef.

A good place to sample brisolée is the Restaurant de Plan-Cerisier above Martigny Croix on the switch-back road into France.

Brisolée Produce


Rye Bread and Dried Beef
Cheese and Apples
Brisolée buffets are now typically organised in October by restauranteurs and hoteliers but wine-growers continue to arrange brisolée parties in their cellars, and small events are held in the home.

2 bottles new wine
1 kg apples, cored, quartered
1 kg chestnuts, washed, notched
1 litre must (white grape juice)
1 kg pears, cored, quartered
1 rye bread, cut into thin slices
500 g mountain cheese, cut into chunks
500 g white grapes
180 g dried beef slices
Butter

Roast chestnuts for 35 minutes in oven at 200°C. Wrap chestnuts in a cloth. Serve chestnuts with buttered rye bread, cheese, dried beef, white grapes, apples, pears and must.

Brisolée Recipe

Cooking Chestnuts in the Rhône Valley