If Bordeaux wine estates are in the grip of absentee landlords and investment trusts, Burgundy (Bourgogne) in eastern France remains a land where small farmers still maintain their own vineyards. However due to the escalation in wine prices these days, those same smallholders tend to drive BMW’s, educate their children privately and shop in Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris, rather than feature in Jean-François Millet paintings.

Given that regional wine trips are frequently seen as a busman’s holiday for a wine merchant, a family visit to Burgundy came as a relaxing break due to the faultless Air B & B arrangements by my son Matthew. He is rapidly becoming a more critically appreciative taster than I and was keen to appraise the bounty on offer.

Apart from a detour to the small town of Chablis to requisition a few ‘locally sourced’ grand crus, we planned to meander southwards along the magical furrows of the Côte d’Or, from Dijon to Beaune. We came off the racetrack prosaically called the D974 and followed the more endearing Route des Grands Crus, which unsurprisingly, does what it says on the bottle. This route is forested with signposts leading to some of the world’s most prestigious agricultural real-estate; Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée, Nuits-St-George, Alex-Corton, et al, wineries that require you to have secured a substantial bank loan before embarking on any retail therapy. But we did snaffle a few tastings along our journey before reaching the city of Beaune, the epicenter of Burgundy’s wine industry.

I had never before entered the vast Hospices de Beaune, a cavernous hanger of a medieval block that was built to accommodate the first charitable ‘national health service’ in 15 th century Europe. Once lined with well stocked hospital beds and attendant nuns, although now mainly open to tourism, it frequently doubles as the village hall, intermittently hosting a motley collection of municipal activities.

Our visit seemed to coincide with one such showing of local artists in what appeared to be the former vestry. These are exhibitions I normally steer well clear of due to my aversion to badly painted willows alongside badly painted rivers, pastel drawings of anatomically challenged horses and still lives whose garishly flattened contents appear to have returned to that great flower stall in the sky. My family however had already jostled their way in.

Apart from the end-of-world visions that greeted us, we were reminded that you can barely set foot in Burgundy without spotting a plate of gougères at some point in the proceedings. Gougères are little cheese puffs made with choux pastry, similar to that used for profiteroles and éclairs, and are the most important cheese creations in the region. Here though, sitting to one side and awaiting the commencement of the private view, were gougères the size of undisturbed puffballs. Matthew’s eyes lit up. We had had a day on the road and dinner was some hours away, these huge golden pillows beckoned. As it happened so did the fearsome concierge, seemingly played by Alistair Sim as the headmistress in an early St Trinian’s film. We were encouraged to leave as the show was due to open and we clearly did not have an invite. At least we were saved from the charcoal kitten sketches.

From Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School: Mastering the Art of Modern French Cuisine (2018)

112ml water

112 milk

100g butter, cubed

Large pinch of salt

130g all-purpose flour

4 large eggs

100g Gruyère

Freshly ground pepper

Freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 200c.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper

In a medium saucepan, combine water, milk, butter and salt and bring to the boil

Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until it becomes a smooth dough, stir over low heat until it dries out and pulls away from the pan, about 2 minutes

Scrape the dough into a bowl, allow to cool, then beat the eggs in one at a time, beating thoroughly between each one

Add cheese and a pinch of pepper and nutmeg

Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 2.5 cm round tip and pipe tablespoon-size mounds onto the baking sheets 5 cms apart

Sprinkle with cheese and bake for 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown

Serve warm

Wine thoughts

I make Alain Ducasse’s Gougères on a regular basis and would do so in a heartbeat if, for example, there’s anything approaching a Hospice de Beaune, Mersault-Charmes, Premier Cru, 2010, which I had my eye on when writing this piece. I am certain that if homemade gougères were accompanied by any suitable cherry and oak-lapped Pinot Noir, then neither would last too long in our kitchen.