There is only one type of poultry in the whole of France that is protected by an Appellation of Quality (AOC) mark, in the same way its revered wines are. The Bresse chicken, resplendent in the colors of the Tricolour (red comb on its head, white feathers and blue feet) is raised in very specific conditions and only in the Bresse region. As such, it is considered a rare delicacy. It’s well worth seeking out – one of the crown jewels of Burgundy cuisine.
Known as the Queen of Chickens, these fowl hail from the region around Bourg-en-Bresse in the Mâconnais region, perhaps better known for its fantastic white wines. The charming market town of Louhans is considered the capital of the Bresse chicken production region. Indeed, the history of the breed here can be traced back as far as 1591, where records show them being used by the citizens of Bresse ChickenBourg-en-Bresse to reward soldiers who fought to save their land. Then, 60 years ago, the AOC mark was granted and their status was secured.
The reason for their firm flesh and delicate flavor is their unique rearing conditions. Compared to industrial or battery-farmed animals, the Bresse chicken lives for four months rather than one, and in the most remarkable comfort – raised with lots of room to roam and feed (500 can share 15,000 square feet, compared to farmed hens which share a square yard with up to thirty others). Their diet is corn, wheat and a little milk, and they are rested for the last few weeks of their lives in darkened crates to let their muscle turn to fat. As a result of this lifestyle, they are pricier than the average fowl, but all the more rewarding.
It has long been said that if Paris is France’s head, and Champagne her soul, then Burgundy is her stomach. And with cuisine like the Bresse chicken, and wines to match in quality, it’s not hard to see why. Most recipes use wine, perhaps some cream, garlic, shallots, and local mushrooms. One such wine which goes very well with the chicken is the Domaine Mouton Givry 1er Cru ‘Clos Jus’ 2018, available from Elden Selections. The firm structure of the wine enrobes a delicate centre, and makes this a great wine for charcuterie of all types: pâtés and terrines, as well as cured hams. However, it is solid enough for roast beef joints and braised and stewed fibrous cuts, and as it is made not far from Bresse, the eponymous chicken is often served with it on the menu in better local restaurants. There is also a delicious blue cheese from this region known as Bleu de Bresse, which would also partner the wine very well.
Like so many things in the world of French wine and food, the Bresse chicken is steeped in a tradition all of its own. For example, to preserve the bird you may see it wrapped in a ‘roulage’ – a sewn, white cloth or ‘vest’ which will keep it fresh for up to three weeks in a cold room. Not only does it preserve the bird, however, it also serves as a mark of respect for the animal.
Want to read more of our articles exploring Burgundy wine? Try this one on the wines of the Mâconnais region, or this one in which we meet and greet some of the best female winemakers around at the moment. And don’t forget our brand new Burgundy Wine Club, open for membership now!