After a night-long stay in the beautiful city of Dijon, we checked out of our hotel rooms and left early for the Les Halles morning market. This market happens every day except Sunday, and it involves a large gathering where farmers, cooks, and other producers exchange their quality foods. As always, there was a wonderful selection of cheese and fresh fruits and vegetables! Naturally, we had to pick up some food for our picnic lunch later
We then bussed over from Dijon to Salins-les-Bains in the Jura department. After a short picnic, we toured the Great Saltworks salt mine and museum. While a salt mine seems unrelated to a course on cheese and wine, salt is actually a critical ingredient in the production of cheese. Not only does it season the cheese, but adding salt to curds allows for moisture retention and creates a desirable texture. In addition, adding a cheese mass to a saltwater brine helps it form an outer rind and preserves it from spoilage.
In the 13th century, the people of Jura found that digging deep into the ground gives access to extra salty water. This was extremely important to the economy at the time because the town could now produce their own salt in large quantities. Salt at the time was considered “white gold” due to its value as a food preservative. During this time, laborers would work in the mines for 12 hours at a time, shoveling coal into the pans every 30 seconds for evaporation. This salt mine has not produced any salt since 1962 because it was no longer profitable, however the site still serves as a fascinating piece of Jura’s history
Next, we bussed over to Arbois to visit the former home and laboratory of Louis Pasteur, a French chemist and pioneer of microbiology. Some of his is discoveries include vaccination, fermentation, and pasteurization. Both fermentation and pasteurization are critical processes in production of cheese and wine. Grape juice and milk are very often pasteurized before being fermented in order to kill off spoilage organisms. In addition, fermentation allows for milk to sour into cheese and for grapes to become wine.
Louis Pasteur died in 1895 at the age of 72, and now his house is owned by the French Academy of Science as a museum. This museum featured the famous flasks, where the one with a swan neck has resisted spoilage for 136 years, due to microorganisms being unable to travel up the spout and into the medium. It felt surreal seeing the results of this experiment in person, after learning about it in so many of my courses.