TASTE OF THE TOUR: Snails and hospital wines in Burgundy
TROYES, France (AP) Barrels of beers and wines, and dozens of cheeses, pates and cold cuts on each stage. Sigh. The trouble with the ever-moving Tour de France: too much to try, simply not enough time.
Still, it would be churlish to complain as the Tour ventures deep into Burgundy, one of France's culinary epicenters - which is saying something in a country where practically every village, town and region has a signature dish, drink or both.
Stage 7 on Friday starts where Stage 6 ended, in Troyes, home to the pungent andouillette sausage made of sliced and boiled pig's intestine. The stage ends 213.5 kilometers (132 miles) later - likely with another mass sprint - in Nuits-Saint-Georges, one of Burgundy's famed wine labels.
Here is a gastronomic, sporting and cultural guide to the last flat-ish stage, before the Tour gains altitude again in the mountains of the Jura and Alps this weekend:
BAGUETTE AND BUTTER: With only a few hills before a long straight at the finish, Stage 7 will be a playground for the muscular sprinters who will then make way for lithe climbers in the mountains.
PLAT DU JOUR: Snails. The Burgundy recipe sees them cooked in the oven with garlic and fresh parsley butter, and served in their shells. Picking them out with a two-pronged fork or, failing that, with a woodwork nail is part of the fun.
Ready-to-cook snails can be bought in cans.
For the full experience, gather them up after rain in the wild; starve them for a week to clean out their innards; wash them in salt water; boil them for five minutes in water with vinegar; take them out of their shells; cook them again for between 45 minutes and two hours, depending on the species, in chicken stock and white wine with an onion, fennel, celery and herbs; let them cool before putting them back into empty shells with the garlic-parsley butter; roast them for about 10 minutes until the butter bubbles.
Quite a chore. Maybe canned snails aren't so bad after all.
VIN DU JOUR: Burgundy's world-famous wines need no introduction. But when buying, don't tell your bank manager: they can be expensive. Their flavor depends, in large part, on which slopes the vines grow on - or what the French call their ''terroir.'' Those higher up the hills, where the soil is often thinner, can have a more mineral, even stony flavor. Conversely, those from richer soils in the valleys can have a fuller, rounder bouquet.
Burgundy wines are often not thought of as keepers, like those from Bordeaux, which are often kept for years or even decades. But some Burgundy wines age marvelously, losing some of their deep purple color but gaining an intriguing, almost sherry-like taste.
CULTURE: The hospital in Nuits-Saint-Georges traces its roots back to the 13th century. It has its own vineyards, built up over time from donations.
The 12 hectares mostly produce reds, from pinot noir grapes. It sells its wine, in barrels, at an annual auction by candlelight every March - with the funds financing the hospital facilities, including a new retirement home now under construction.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: ''That's the most relaxing day in the Tour I've ever had.'' - yellow-jersey wearer Chris Froome, describing the ho-hum Stage 6 from Vesoul to Troyes, won in a finishing sprint by German rider Marcel Kittel.
STAT OF THE DAY: 2. The number of stages won so far by Kittel at this Tour. He also won Stage 2.
HISTORY: To safeguard its best wines during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II, the Louis Latour winery bricked up part of its huge underground cellar in the village of Aloxe-Corton, down the road from Nuits-Saint-Georges. The most precious vintages were hidden behind the wall, and less-valued wines kept out front. The Burgundy winery was founded 220 years ago this year.
FROMAGE: You could spend all day - and then some - visiting every cheese-maker between Troyes and Nuits-Saint-Georges. From creamy Chaource south of Troyes, the stage crosses Epoisses country, home to the tangy soft Epoisses cheese with a squidgy orange crust and slight ammonia aroma that - be warned - becomes challenging if left uneaten for too long.
NEXT ORDER: Stage 8 from Dole on Saturday finishes at the Rousses ski station in the Jura, close to the French border with Switzerland. Three climbs on the 187.5-kilometer (116-mile) route will serve as a warm-up for the extremely tough Stage 9 on Sunday, which has seven climbs, including three with the hardest rating - ''hors categorie'' or beyond rating.