We'd all love to bring home escargot, cheese, or foie gras from France, but some treats can be a little tricky to transport. I did, however, endeavor to capture the essence of this food-centric region during my recent trip to Burgundy, France, so that I could relive as much of the experience as possible in my home kitchen.
Here's the story of my travel treasures, and a few things I learned along the way.
The journey to become a more savvy food traveler was fraught with mistakes, like broken wine bottles, spoiled cheese, and suitcases that weighed a ton. I quickly learned that 1) big things come in small packages, and 2) non-perishable items, like cookbooks and cutting boards, can remind you of your travels every time you use them.
Armed with bubble wrap and a roll of packaging tape, I was prepared to properly transport anything that caught the attention of my senses overseas. Here are the ten things that made it home.
1. Dijon Mustard - Maille
The city of Dijon is famous for its mustard. In fact, it is aptly named the mustard capital of the world, so it is only logical to bring back some of this tangy, bright condiment. I stopped in the boutique mustard shop, Maille, and filled up a jar of their classic, spicy mustard with Chablis, straight from the pump. Not to be missed is their seasonal favorite, mustard with black truffles!
2. Eau de Vie, Crème de Fruits and Liqueurs - Jacoulot
Eau de vie translates as "water of life" and is made by distilling fresh fruit. The result is a light and refreshing, albeit high-octane, digestif that captures the freshness of ripe fruit. Their handcrafted, small-batch eau de vie, made from Williams pears, is absolute heaven — just like taking a bite of a juicy pear!
When I think of the Burgundy region, black truffles immediately come to mind. The aromatic fungi develop underground and are harvested in the fall. What is unique about these truffles? They are preserved in fine French Cognac, which infuses the truffles (and vice versa!). This family owns several adorable Lagotto Romagnol dogs that seek out and help harvest these highly coveted culinary treats. In addition to harvesting truffles, the Rion family also produces some amazing Pinot Noir.
Jams and fruit spreads are some of my favorite travel souvenirs. They transport nicely and are versatile in a vinaigrette, marinade, or even a cocktail. The berries in Burgundy are absolutely delicious, when in season. This particular farm produces small-batch jams made from black currants, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries. Owners, Isabelle and Sylvain Olivier get a little crazy and craft fruit-infused vodka, black currant mustard, and various fruit liqueurs.
I bring home a jar of honey from almost every trip I take. It is one way to taste the flora of the surrounding countryside. Every time I use the honey, I am immediately taken back to the sights, sounds, and smells of the place I visited. Beekeeper Dominique Garrey's chestnut honey is rich, herbaceous, and complex.
Pain d'épice de Dijon (spice bread from Dijon) is loosely described as gingerbread, but it traditionally contains no ginger at all. This dense, spiced bread is perfect alongside a cup of tea or served lightly toasted, topped with foie gras. La Rose de Vergy specializes in this local delicacy and also boasts jams, liqueurs, spices, and other baked treats at their shop in downtown Dijon. This stop was where I realized I needed another suitcase for everything that was catching my eye!
Further south from Dijon, the city of Mâcon has a gem of a chocolate shop. I was completely smitten when I visited Mickaël Martin’s boutique chocolate shop. He creates chocolate works of art. Some of his intricate chocolate sculptures are up to three feet tall. I was elated when he sent me home with a chocolate shoe, filled with truffles in almost every imaginable flavor. Saving some to enjoy at home was a futile attempt.
When in Burgundy, you must try cassis, black currant liqueur. Cassis is added to Aligoté, a dry, bright wine from Burgundy, to create the Kir cocktail. I prefer making a Kir Royale, which is a sparkling version of the classic drink. A drizzle of crème de cassis over vanilla bean ice cream is heavenly, and I am definitely going to add some to my next blackberry cobbler.
9. Books on Wine and Regional Cookbooks
Making regionally specific recipes and learning traditional cooking techniques always brings me closer to my travels. It was difficult to find English-translated cookbooks, showcasing traditional Burgundian recipes, but I did find one that featured local favorites like roasted duck breast, braised rabbit with mustard, and eggs with rice in red wine sauce. I'm happy I brought back some red Burgundy to pair with these recipes!
Do you have any regional cookbooks that have broadened your culinary scope?
There is no shortage of wine to taste or take home over in Burgundy. Aside from visiting the many tasting rooms in the area, there are shops that specialize in hard-to-find wines. I scored a couple of rare bottles at Aux Grand Crus in Dijon.
A Few Considerations on Traveling with Wine
- Before bringing back multiple bottles of wine in your baggage, be sure to check with your state's laws on traveling with wine.
- Think about the temperature. Countless bottles have been ruined by shipping during hot, summer months or by being left in a hot car.
- Check out the duty free shop, if you are traveling internationally and don't have room in your checked luggage. Depending upon how many bottles you check, you may have to pay a tax on that bottle you purchased at the winery.
(Image credits: Jayme Henderson)