Food in Burgundy is part and parcel of life in this rich region. Burgundy has always been a gourmet destination, stretching back to the 14th century when the extravagant, wealthy and powerful dukes of Burgundy ruled the land and the living was easy.
Burgundy is a glorious region to visit if you’re a foodie. It’s large, stretching from the fertile, gently rolling countryside of the north, just an hour’s drive south of Paris, to the land of Charolais beef and lush vineyards to the east and south.
What is Burgundy famous for?
These sweet, dark little gems are grown all over the region and are used in many dishes from sauces to sorbets.
Crème de cassis, the concentrated sweet, dark red liqueur made from blackcurrants, is added to white wine or Champagne to make the popular aperitif, Kir. Traditionally Aligoté is used, an AOC white Burgundy wine.
This is known the world over for quality and unique taste. Bresse chicken is the only poultry given A.O.C. status.
Everybody should try Burgundy snails once in their lives. The French escargot (snail) is found all over France, but those from Burgundy are particularly prized as being larger and more flavorful than the farmed, petits gris (small grays).
Given an appellation contrôlée in 2010, the distinctive white cattle reign supreme. In the spring, summer and autumn months, the cattle feeds on the lush pastureland, particularly around Charolles which gave them their name. The beef is famed for its tender, succulent meat.
There are some 150 different varieties of mushrooms in Burgundy. They grow in the forest of the Morvan and the limestone areas near Vézelay, in the Puisaye, Othe forest and the Châtillonais.
If you do find some, take them to the local chemist (pharamacie) to check they’re edible.
These ‘Black Diamonds’ produce pungent rich flavours. Growing just underground on tree roots, they were originally hunted by pigs. Today dogs are also used. It’s hard to farm them so they are very expensive. Around 50 metric tonnes are harvested in winter each year
Burgundy’s notable cheeses date back to the medieval monasteries and their cheese-making monks.
Abbaye de la Pierre qui Vire
Located in the central Burgundy Morvan forest in the village of St-Léger-Vauban, the Benedictine monks of the abbey first made this cheese from both goats’ and cows’ milk. It’s creamy and with a soft gentle flavor; you can buy it at the Abbey shop along with the pottery the monks make and in local shops as well. The monks no longer make the cheese which has been handed over to a local farmer, but it’s still produced organically.
The farm shop is open daily from 4.30-6pm; the Abbey shop is open Tues-Sun 11am-noon & 3-5pm. More information here.
Charolais is a cheese made from either cow’s or goat’s milk and sometimes a mix of both. The goat variety is nutty when fresh but can also be eaten when it is aged. It is at its best from April to December.
Chaource is made in both Burgundy and Champagne. It’s very pale in colour and is a creamy soft cheese with a white crust. It is in season in summer and autumn.
Chèvre Frais is fresh goat’s cheese. It’s best from spring to autumn when the goats feed outside on fresh herbs and grasses. Some of the best versions are the thick cylinders made in Burgundy, so ask in local cheese shops and in the various open air food markets for a good local goat’s cheese.
Cîteaux is made by the monks of Cîteaux Abbey in Côte d’Or but a small herd of cows means only 100,000 cheese are produced annually.
Epoisses is one of the best known cheeses. This pungent smelling cheese is so runny it’s often eaten with a spoon; it’s also used as a sauce on steak and in tarteflette. It’s called after the small Burgundian village directly east from Avallon though the cheese is made all over Burgundy. This raw cow’s milk cheese is aged slowly and washed daily with the local eau-de-vie known as marc de Bourgogne.
Its origins probably go back to the Cistercian monks at the Abbaye de Cîteaux in the 15th century. It was called by the gastronome, Brillat-Savarin, as the ‘king of cheeses’. Buy it locally for the best taste.
Other cheeses similar to Epoisses include Ami du Chambertin, Trou de Cru and Affiné au Chablis.
Montrachet is a goat cheese, wrapped with a chestnut or grape leaf and aged in cool cellars. The best Montrachet cheeses are made from raw goat’s milk.
Soumaintrain comes from the Yonne region. It’s a soft textured cow’s milk cheese with a reddish rind and has a strong smell and spicy flavour. Originating in Soumaintrain it, like Epoisses, gets runnier and smellier as it matures and can be eaten with a spoon. The richest version is made with lait cru (raw milk).
Other Burgundy cheeses to look out for include Saint-Florentin, Brillat-Savarin, and the Mâcon goats cheese, Bouton de Culotte.
Dijon, a strategic city on the European spice route in the Middle Ages, is still well known for its mustard makers.
The best known company, Maille, was started by the vinegar maker, Antoine-Claude Maille in 1720. He opened in Dijon a year later and in 1747 opened another one in Paris. Today the old-fashioned shop sells mustards in a bewildering variety of tastes in both jars and from hand pumps. You buy your particular pot and go along to get it filled up.
32 Rue de la Liberté
Tel: +33 3 80 30 41 02
My favorite mustard is Edmond Fallot. It comes in all sorts of unusual and delicious tastes and is more rounded than Maille. Founded in 1840, Fallot is still family owned and uses traditional methods to make its products. If you want to understand the secrets of mustard making, visit the mustard factory in Beaune for a tour.
31 Rue du Faubourg Bretonnièr
Tel: +33 3 80 22 10 02
Burgundy Dishes to Try
Food in Burgundy is taken seriously. You’ll find the following in many local restaurants, so give them a try.
Boeuf Bourguignon is a rich, slow-cooked beef stew braised in red wine (which should be a Burgundy wine). It’s got onions, carrots, garlic and a bouquet garni. It comes garnished with pearl onions, mushrooms and bacons. Great for a winter’s day.
Coq au vin is a dish found all over France. It’s best made in Burgundy from Bresse chicken and cooked in Burgundy wine, then flamed with a splash of Burgundian marc.
Gougères are cheese puffs served with an aperitif before a meal.
Jambon persilleé: (potted ham with parsley) was originally a traditional Easter dish.
Les oeufs en meurette: Eggs poached in a red wine sauce, served with pickled onions, bacon and toast.
La Pôchouse is a dish like Bouillabaisse, made with fresh water fish caught locally. But it’s difficult to find.
Top Burgundy Food Markets
There are markets in every city and town in Burgundy, so ask at the local tourist office for dates and times. Here’s a list of the best food markets in the region by town in the various departments in Burgundy. For more about departments in France, check here.
Autun, Saône-et-Loire: Wednesdays 7am-1pm in the City Hall and on the forecourt. Also large general market with food on Fridays
Auxerre, Yonne: Tuesday & Friday mornings at Arquebuse market hall
Wednesday morning : rue de la Draperie (greengrocers)
Saturdays morning : place de l’Hôtel de Ville (greengrocers)
Sunday morning : place Degas – ZUP (fruit, vegetables and clothes)
Beaune, Côte d’Or: Wednesday and Saturday mornings in and around the covered Les Halles, opposite the magnificent Hôtel Dieu, of Hospice de Beaune. Saturdays from March to November, there’s a small antiques market on neighbouring place Carnot
Chablis, Yonne: Saturday mornings in rue Auxerrois
Dijon, Côte-d’Or: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings in and around the covered market, Place du Marché
Chalon-sur- Saône, Saône-et-Loire: Friday and Sunday mornings in Place Saint-Vincent, opposite the cathedral
Joigny, Yonne: Saturday morning in Les halles
Mâcon, Saône-et-Loire: Tuesday to Saturday mornings in the Place aux Herbes, next to the Maison de Bois
Specialty markets and Special Events
Saint-Christophe-en-Brionnais, Saône-et-Loire: Charolais cattle market, held here since 1488, on Wednesday mornings
Noyers-sur-Serein, Yonne: Truffle market on two Sundays in November from local truffle growers. The truffles are first of all checked for quality, then a bell is rung to declare the market open
Gourmet Markets and Events
October 31-November 11 2020: International Gastronomic Fair in Dijon. Food in Burgundy doesn’t get much more serious, and exciting than at this annual festival.
November 21, 2020: Nouveau Beaujolais is released. The wine is produced mostly in Beaujolais, north of Lyons in the Rhone-Alpes region, with a lesser amount produced in the Saône-et-Loire department.
November 14-16, 2020: The Great Wine Auction at Beaune takes place. This is one of the most spectacular charity wine auctions in the world and is conducted by Christie’s auctioneers in the Hospice de Beaune. Collectors taste some rare treasures and all the proceeds go to maintaining the Hospice de Beaune.
Check out my Auvergne Travel Guide for a very different cuisine: hearty, rustic and simple.