TASTE OF THE TOUR: Cheese in a box and Brel’s favored wine.
The guys on the bicycles can count themselves lucky; at least they get to burn off the calories on the moving feast also known as the Tour de France.
For those who follow the peloton in cars, however, this first week has been testing for the arteries. Meatballs, intestine sausage, cheese, Champagne, Burgundy, beer and more. Anyone got a carrot?
As the race ascends on Saturday into eastern France’s Jura mountains, the cholesterol count is likely to climb, too. Stage 8 takes the Tour into the land of Comte, a sometimes underestimated cheese.
Here is your gastronomic, sporting and cultural guide to the 187.5 kilometers (116 miles) from Dole to the Rousses ski station:
BAGUETTE AND BUTTER: After two flat-ish stages through the vineyards of Champagne and Burgundy, where the muscular sprinters were in their element, the lighter climbers will come to the fore on the ascents, with three climbs on Saturday serving as hors d’oeuvre for Sunday’s main course of seven climbs. Riders who wilt in the mountains will see their ambitions of winning the Tour in Paris on July 23 evaporate.
PLAT DU JOUR: Mont d’Or cheese, made at an altitude of 700 meters (2,300 feet) or higher in the Jura mountains, can best be described as fondue in a box. Sold in round wooden boxes, the cheese feels rubbery to the touch until roasted in an oven, with a dash of white wine. Thirty minutes later: Magic! It becomes wonderfully runny. Spooned over boiled potatoes, with cold cuts and pickled gherkins on the side, Mont d’Or gives fondue a run for its money. Larger ones, as big as dinner plates, easily feed a family of four.
Tour rider Alexis Vuillermoz, of the French AG2R team, is a fan. Stage 8 passes by his family home in the Jura village of Chevry.
“A Mont d’Or, with a hunk of farmer’s bread to dip in it. That’s perfect,” he says. Roasted “with a little bit of white wine from the Jura, of course, and garlic.”
VIN DU JOUR: The riders pass through Arbois, known for its wines of the same name. The name derives from “ar” and “bos” in the Celtic language, meaning “fertile earth.” Arbois is best known for its so-called yellow wine, which has oodles of character, a golden hue and a nutty, sometimes sherry-like flavor. Jacques Brel sang that he wanted the wine to be drunk at his last supper.
HISTORY: Dole, the picturesque start-town of Stage 8, is where French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur was born in 1822. The process of pasteurization — preserving liquids like milk by heating them to kill microbes — is named after him. He also developed vaccines against anthrax and rabies. He attended primary school in Arbois.
STAT OF THE DAY: 6. The distance, in millimeters, that separated Stage 7 winner Marcel Kittel and second-placed Edvald Boasson Hagen in their photo-finish in Nuits-Saint-Georges on Friday.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The closest win I’ve ever had” — Kittel, who now has 12 career wins at the Tour.
FROMAGE: Comte, a hard cheese from the Jura, can appear like a poor cousin to gooey, more pungent French cheeses. But Comte gets better with age. Left for two years or more, it becomes marvelously fragrant, with little salty crystals forming inside that crackle between the teeth.
NEXT ORDER: Stage 9 on Sunday is a monster, with three extremely tough climbs and four somewhat more moderate ones before the finish in Chambery in the Alps. A day that should separate potential Tour winners from also-rans.