My time in France has already come to an end. Time passed so fast! It has been a tremendous experience and I look back onto it with a smile on my face. Hereby a short story about my last week in French, during which we went on a study trip to Burgundy to learn more about French wine and cheese.
We started early on Monday morning as our bus departed at 7:00 am. I woke up so early that I could see sunrise, which certainly made for a nice start of the day! After a few hours in the bus we arrived at our first stop, the champagne caves of Champagne Mercier. Mercier is a very large champagne company, which aims to make champagne accessible to everyone. To accomplish this they work with many farmers and the ‘cellar master’ creates a blend using grapes from all the farms. The first time that such a blend was created was in 1889. At that time, the wine was blended in an enormous barrel. Mister Mercier wanted to exhibit this barrel at the world expo in Paris, but there were many obstacles on the road leading to Paris. Mister Mercier was even forced to buy and deconstruct a number of buildings in order to make way for the monstrous barrel! But eventually he succeeded and he received a lot of attention at the world expo, although he was overshadowed by the famous Eiffel tower. After a train ride through the huge cellars of Champagne Mercier we visited another, smaller champagne producer. He gave us a bit more information on the fermentation and bottling process, which was very interesting for me as a food scientist.
The day after we visited an organic farm. It was great to see all the animals and hear about the company. However, I was quite surprised to learn that no extra sanitary measures are being taken for the production of ‘raw’ milk. It seemed to me that the cow’s udders were often dirty and thus the milk could be contaminated with microorganisms easily. As happy as I was to drink raw milk before, as cautious I was afterwards. The French however, waived away my comments, “well, I’m still alive” was all they said. During the afternoon we visited an abbey where several cheeses were produced. We even saw a new born calf there, who was trying to get on his feet. And that was only 1 hour after her birth!
On day three we visited a vineyard and we were given some information about farming, fermentation and the lives of farmers. Turns out that they drink a lot of wine to forget about all the risks involved in farming! Droughts, insects and heavy rainfall can all seriously damage the vines and result in bad harvests. And then the land itself is quite expensive too, it comes at a cost of up to a few million euro’s per hectare. Therefore there are little ‘new’ farmers in the well-known French wine regions, as the investment (land, machines, knowledge) is simply too high for most. Later that day we visited a ‘hospice’, which was an hospital for the very poor, built by the very rich. At the time the hospital was constructed it was not yet known that some diseases are contagious and patients often had to share beds! When the hospice was no longer in use as a hospital, it became a retirement home. These days however, the serves as a museum.
On the last day of our trip we visited another vineyard, where we got to see the fermentation tanks and barrels. Aging wine in barrels is expensive and therefore only a small percentage of all wine is produced this way. Even if an oaky flavour is not desirable, aging wine in barrels can still be beneficial to the wine because of the ‘breathing’ capacity of the barrels. After the visit we returned to Beauvais and on our way home we had to say goodbye to some people, who hopped off in Paris. A few days later I myself took the Thalys the Netherlands. My adventure in France had come to an end, but the memories will remain!