Noyers-sur-Serein is one of France's official 100 Beautiful Villages. As the name states, it is situated on the Serein river, which hugs the town with a gentle curve, in the northwest part of Burgundy about an hour from Dijon, and two hours from Paris. It is a medieval, walled city, with a bi-hourly-ringing church bell tower. All the old stone and timber houses that, having settled into themselves over the last few centuries at various angles, look like they're, you know, just hangin' out. Our friends, Rod and Marco, recently downsized their Paris residence and relocated much of their life to a 15th century stone house in Noyers. On our recent road trip, we stopped by to visit Rod at his "new" house. The directions were something like, "head into town, and after crossing the bridge, follow the wall to the left, find the church, ours is the house in back of it." No numbers, no problem.
As we drove in, I realized that, at least in this case, they aren't joking around with the whole 100 Beautiful Villages thing. Abundantly green trees bowed over the small tranquil Serein, neat piles of linens, candlesticks, and bric-a-brac sat among old wood furniture in a brocante (flea market) in the town center, and a adorable little girl learned how to cast a fishing rod from her hippie-tinged father.
|Prepubescent Baguettes and Croissants: The Wheat Fields of Northern Burgundy on the way to Noyers-sur-Serein|
We found the house and were greeted with a spread from the farmers' market in nearby Chablis. Rod and his friends had picked up a few bottles of, you guessed it, Chablis, as well as some sizable snails, ripe, triple creme cheeses, artichokes, etc. We had just come from Beaune in the heart of Burgundy and contributed a small wheel of raw milk Époisses, the star cheese from Bourgogne (Burgundy). Its orange rind stinks to high heaven, but it is truly one of the best cheeses out there. (Those of you in the USA can find the pasteurized version at any fine cheese counter. If they don't have it or at least know what it is, they should find another job.)
Chez Vignuzzi et Deweese; Bottle of Local Chablis amid the Aftermath of Hard Snacking
Yes, That Was a Pool in the Background of the Previous Photo
It was great to try some real chardonnays from Chablis. Coming from California, I have an aversion to the aforementioned grape. The name itself makes me think of overcooked salmon and people using the word "luncheon" instead of "lunch". California chardonnays usually have an overbearing oaky, juicy, buttery flavor. (The molecule that can be produced in chardonnay is actually the same one found in butter.) The wines we had here were a completely different experience: crisp-yet smooth, complex, and giving just a hint of the barrel. The only one that reminded me of the typical California chardonnay was an older bottle, from 2000. But the age carried the wight of the oaky-buttery flavor just fine. After tasting that one, a theory popped into my head: chardonnay winemakers in California must have tasted one of these aged Chablis, and tried to give those rich qualities to younger wines. The thing is, the wine needs the age to handle those flavors.
Snail Fact (or at least a rumor to good not to believe): One of Rod's friends visiting from San Francisco told us that it is very important for women to eat escargots at least once or twice a year. Apparently there is a protein in the little shell-dwellers that latches onto breast cancer and flushes it out of the body. She seemed legit in her knowledge, which is good enough for me to take it and pass it along.
There is a small group of people, French and non-French, who have moved out of the big city and into this town, creating an evident creative community in Noyers that seems to mesh nicely with the local culture and history. Everyone seems to get along whether local or newbie.
Two Little Lions; Dream Screen
|Restaurant les Millesimes|
Along with a cafe, a bistro (called Le Bistro) and maybe one or two other eating options, Noyers is home to Restaurant Les Millesimes, which is currently under consideration for a Michelin star. So right now is time to get a table; they do not know when the next Michelin rep will dine, so they are at the top of their game at every service. The vibe is great: comfortable yet confident. The restaurant is part of a maison (house; in this contexts, a group of shops under the same direction) that also comprises a boucher (butcher) and caviste (wine cellar).
After an extended snack/wine/pool session, we took a walk through town, up the hill to the old castle that is slowly being restored, turret by turret. Students come from around Europe to intern in the summer, and we walked past their campsite, complete with a tidy, fully-stocked cooking tent. We hear that at the end of the summer, they have a party where they roast a whole pig.
We walked on, down a gravel road along the Serein, leading us out of town under a canopy of walnut trees. In a few of the yards, poplars were planted in neat rows, certainly many years ago; it turns out that back in the day, when a daughter was born, the father would plant as many poplar trees as could fit on his land, so that when she was of marrying age, the family could offer the trees as a dowry, timber to build a house for the new couple.
After a short while, we reached a clearing. In the meadow a group of teenagers were breaking down an elaborate camp, complete with a multi-use structure made of tree trucks and rope, that was at the same time a large table, a clothes drying rack and a hammock support. On the other side of the meadow we could see the swimming pond we'd heard about earlier that day; and it was beautiful. As we stepped through the trees along the bank, we heard a hearty young voice, "Bonjour?!" Fifteen feet to our right we saw the feet and head of a teenager standing in a handmade shower, made by fixing a couple tarps to adjacent trees. We returned the "bonjour," and headed back to town.
As we said our goodbyes and prepared for the reentry into Paris, I noticed a pile of cherries, a large morsel wrapped in butcher paper, and a cookbook flipped open to a recipe for roasted duck breast in wine and cherry sauce. And, as if it wasn't enough already, from the car we could hear the pianist warming up inside the church for the Chopin concert that night, by one of the best pianists in France. With all this flooding my mind, I felt like some sort of Lazarus, soon to awaken in the big city, ready to report that, yes, there is roast duck breast in heaven. Among other things.
Post by Adrian