Happy to report an extra ordinary warm weather we are having at the moment… 18 degrees this week end and luckily I was invited in Chablis for a special birthday. After a wild party celebrating with excellent local wines, we needed some walking in a forest and fresh air to put our neurones back in place!
We complained about the lack of wild mushrooms in the forest this year. My friends decided nevertheless to go to their “secret” mushroom spot where the environment is just right for certain types of fungi… As we approached the spot, the very last of the migrating geese were flying above us calling out to each other and making lots of noise. The wind was blowing on the last of the leaves of the tall trees creating a kind of a song called in French “un tremble” (a shaking). The show of autumn colours in the forest ranging from deep burgundy red to bright yellow and sombre ochre was breathtaking.
Never did we imagine that we were minutes away from finding a gold mine of “chanterelles grises” or Cantharellus cibarious or also called Girolle… What a treasure hunt that was following the find of the first ones… “And there are some there!!!… And there also… and did you see that… I have never seen so many….” Coats were used as baskets to gather as much as we could and in a very short time, we had collected around 6 kgs…Just incredible! And to think that a few minutes before we were complaining!
Now as we drove back with our bounty, we had another surprise as we found an Echalier ( a stile ), a very rare occurrence these days as many farmers do not want people to walk on their land to access fishing spots, understandably so it as they sometimes leave their trash behind. I climbed it as it was another secret spot for Common chickweed (stellaria media) to make a salad…
Back in Fussy, it was time to prepare the mushrooms and this is no small task as you need to gently brush the gills under the cap and take out the dirt from the stem. You must not wash them as you will loose out big time! They need also to be cooked quite a while in some butter, adding garlic and parsley towards the end. I like it best with scrambled eggs to fully enjoy its delicate and aromatic flavours.
The graylag geese went pass the échalier yesterday, thousands of them… They are going south and I will only see them again in Spring. It is always with lots of emotion that I see them crossing the Berry sky. The formation of their flight changes all the times, shaping the V and reshaping it often. The Greylag Goose utters flight-calls such as loud, honking series of notes with repeated deep “aahng-ahng-ung”. When in flocks and migrating as it is the case at the moment, they make such a racket above our heads and you cannot miss them! .They suddenly sort of stop and swirl around for a while at dusk to land on the many lakes of Sologne in order to feed and then leave again in the morning. What a show! And it is also the first sign of winter…
Boots are shinning and out of the cupboards and summer closed are folded and pack up for next year. It is now time for soups and casseroles cooked for a long time on the stove.
On the soup themes, I have plenty to do with the help of a fantastic cookbook called “Soupsong” by my American friend Pat Solley, where you will find a world reference of soups, their history and the recipes… Great read and source of information.
The organic garden of Fussy has started to harvest Jerusalem artichokes, celeriac, parsnip, leeks, beetroot and pumpkin… And for the next six months of soup making, you will always find a soup on the menu as my collection of recipes for this type of dish is well establish after my last ten years but I like to create so let me surprise you…
On the casserole themes, I have so much choice! Rogan Josh, the famous lamb curry to warm yourself up….Beef cheeks cooked in a stock I prepare with sesame oil, white wine, soya sauce and star anise, ginger and garlic, slowly cooking for hours on a low heat so that it becomes tender and melting… such a treat in the days where all is fast! Veal head, many regions of France claim it as theirs and it is often naturally on the menu during the cold seson with the gribiche sauce (mustard, capers, chives, gherkins, shallots and crushed eggs, oil and vinegar), usually served simply with a boiled potato.
It is time to come to the Echalier, snuggle up near the fireplace in our comfortable sofas and give yourself some good time with my slow food…
The Museum reception is bright with large windows opening onto a terrace. Empty wine barrels painted in “happy” colours are used as tables where you can taste the wine offered at the end of the visit. The view from the terrace on the hills of Sancerre and the roof tops of the village is breathtaking of beauty and the view is never the same as it alters with the seasonal changes.
You mustn’t miss the overall presentation in the “Grande Cave” at the bottom of the stairs on your right. It only last for ten minutes or so and the English translation gives you an overview of the long history of the area and helps you comprehend the notion of “terroir”.
Little niches behind screens are in fact showing small films with winemakers telling their stories. They reveal candidly some of the secrets of their international success due to their tenacity, beliefs, love of their land and focus on quality which is in the Berrichon’s genes. Take the time to view them as they are full of genuine anecdotes told with a charming Berrichon accent.
The history is cleverly told but the future of the vineyard is also mapped out for you with the new generation of winemakers who are conscious of the new environmental issues of our times and always keen to challenge themselves in order to better the quality of the winemaking process from the land to the bottle, the finished product.
You end the visit by walking through the aromatic garden pleasantly laid out. The flowers and herbs scents awake your sense of smell and you can see in summer the branches of the fruits trees bending down under the weight of their production. At last but not the least, try the simulator “enjambeur” (high-clearance trator) to appreciate the work in the vineyard. Kids and adults alike love it!
After 25 years in Australia and many careers ranging from Air-Stewardess, to Festival director, restaurateur, event and food consultant, I have put down the suitcases at the Echalier for the time being. Conscious of an ever changing world, I have nevertheless always cooked all the dishes in my kitchen, ignoring the many shortcuts the restaurant industry can use now. I have built since taking over in 2004, a large web of local and organic producers who have become friends.
The supply of seasonal vegetables is now secure with the organic garden of Fussy, the famous “Crottin de Chavignol” (local goat’s cheese) is supplied by a local organic cheese maker, the organic apple juice and “fromage blanc” delivered weekly respectively by M. Clavier and the Patrouillats farm and many others.
The meals proposed at the Echalier are a medley of food cultures encountered in my travels as well as traditional French dishes. I play with spices and flavors but always ensuring that the produce is of the highest quality. The menus are conceptualised daily and written on a blackboard where you will find a choice of 2 entrees, 2 main courses and 2 desserts.
A rich wine region is also at our doorstep and I can propose many local wines to match your meal from the world renowned Sancerre to the up and coming Quincy or Reuilly.
Bourges is also a stone throw away from the Echalier and its medieval centre is well worth a visit as well as the Palais Jacques Coeur. As I have often been a guide to many travellers from Australia and other part of the world, I can advise you on the best places to visit and where to purchase some of our good produce..