Secrets from the Alsace Wine Route: Fromage Pilgrimage
By: Ashley Thompson
The Alsace Wine Route is a winding, splendid highway in northeastern France that saunters through rolling vineyards and hundreds of tiny villages, and whose panoramic views cause cameras to click perhaps more than any other region in picturesque France. Stretching 110 miles, the road hits classical cities such as Strasbourg and Colmar, among the most popular stops. But tiny villages worth discovery abound along this well-traveled trail.
Having just returned from driving the wine road with my parents and sister, I thought I’d share some tips I picked up from my journey with you. First up: The creamy joy of Ribeaupierre cheese. Sure, the main draw to the wine road is Alsace’s white wine (and lone red varietal—Pinot Noir), which can be tasted for free at wine bars or vineyards in nearly every town, but don’t let that deter you from exploring the other culinary specialties of this region.
My family and I spent two nights in Riquewihr, a marvelously preserved medieval village that snuggles up to hectares upon hectares of hilly vineyards. On our last night there, we enjoyed tartes flambées (an Alsatian specialty not to be missed), fresh white asparagus (mid-May is prime asparagus season in the region), spätzle, and local Riesling at Riquewihr’s La Dime restaurant. Gracing both the heavenly spätzle and the thin-crust tarte was Ribeaupierre cheese, a variety completely unknown to my family and me. Not that I’m some sort of cheese whiz, but the mysterious melted goodness piqued my interest. I asked our server where the cheese came from.
“It’s made on a farm about five kilometers from here, at the edge of the village of Ribeauvillé, called L’Hirondelle.” she explained to us. ‘It’s the only place it’s produced in France.”
Nothing more needed to be said. We headed toward Ribeauvillé early the next morning.
L’Hirondelle farm isn’t exactly well marked, and it didn’t help that the main road of Ribeauvillé was under construction.
I kept asking construction workers how to get there by using the detour route, and I got a different answer each time. Finally, though, we reached the mecca of our fromage pilgrimage. We rushed into the store at the entrance of the farm, where interesting varieties of wedges of Ribeaupierre greeted us from a display case. Tomato and olive. Mustard and pepper. Smoked. Pimento. Natural. We decided on smoked and natural, to keep it simple and allow Ribeaupierre’s natural tang to shine through. Three 120-gram wedges of cheese was less than six euros, a definite advantage of skipping the middleman and buying products on-site. We snagged a baguette from a local boulangerie and vegged out on a park bench. Knowing that we had depended on no guidebook to lead us to this spontaneous adventure made the cheese—and the entire experience—all the more satisfying.
To get to L’Hirondelle (at the eastern edge of town), follow the Wine Route to Ribeauvillé, 66 kilometers south of Strasbourg and only 15 kilometers north of Colmar.
It’s just past the village’s casino (quite out of place, but at least it’s hidden and away from Old Town.)
L’Hirondelle: 100 route de Guémar; 68150 Ribeauvillé-Gare; +1 03 89 73 62 32
La Dime Address: 49, Rue Général de Gaulle; 68340 Riquewihr
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Stay tuned for more secrets along the Alsace Wine Route.
Photo: Ashley Thompson