During two weekends in November, the Swiss city of Porrentruy hosts its annual celebration of Saint-Martin — an event that centers around a feast with pork in many forms. Located near the border with France in the Jura canton, I recently attended the first weekend of this historic festival.
As you’ll see from my photos, the weather was not ideal for the Saint-Martin market — with wind, cool temperatures and heavy rain showers. Despite these conditions, I had a great visit to an event that is considered one of Switzerland’s “living traditions.” Here’s more information, if you’re interested in checking it out…
History of Saint-Martin
First, to give you some background about how this festival got started… Born in Hungary, Saint-Martin is known as the patron saint of France. The legend goes that while he was a soldier, upon meeting a beggar, he selflessly cut his cloak in half to share it with him. He eventually became a bishop and a saint, and he is honored each year on St. Martin’s Day, the 11th of November.
In Porrentruy, this time of year also coincides with the end of the harvest period, and historically, this date also served as the deadline for farmers to make their rental payments. Therefore, it was the perfect time for a festival — to spend time with family and friends and feast on a pig, slaughtered especially for the occasion. As a friend from the Jura described to me, the farmers preserved some of the meat for winter, but they also had an abundance of pork to share — a luxury they did not always have. And, every part of the pig was used — a true “nose-to-tail” dining experience.
Today, the Swiss Department of Home Affairs recognizes the Feast of Saint-Martin as a “tradition vivante” (living tradition). However, as it mentions in the description of this event, the current version of Saint-Martin “is more about celebrating the pig than the holy man.” The feast of Saint-Martin is the primary component of the festivities, but in recent decades, Porrentruy has also started hosting a special outdoor market featuring regional food products, live entertainment and more.
Feast of Saint-Martin
In Porrentruy, the celebration of St. Martin is typically held the second weekend of November. Although, if the first of November falls on a Sunday, the celebration takes place the third weekend of the month.
At this time, restaurants in the Porrentruy area, and elsewhere in the Jura, offer a traditional menu for Saint-Martin — some officially as a partner restaurant of the event and others on their own. The menu for Saint Martin varies, but to be considered a partner of the event, a restaurant must agree to serve at least one of the following dishes:
- Gelée – Also known as “Gelée de ménage,” this is a terrine made from pieces of the pig’s head encased in a savory meat jelly. You may also know this dish as “head cheese.”
- Boudin – A blood sausage made from pork that contains cream, you will often see this dish listed on the menu as “Boudin à la crème.”
- Grillades and atriaux – Grilled pork sausages and atriaux, a round sausage made with pork meat and liver with a casing.
If you go all in for the feast of St. Martin with a “menu complet,” you can expect a meal with about 8-12 different courses. About halfway through this extensive meal, you might also be invited to have a “coup de milieu” — a small glass of damassine, a regional eau-de-vie made from plums, or another fruit brandy. Here’s a list of some of the other dishes you might receive, in addition to the ones listed above:
- Bouilli de porc (collet, épaule) – boiled pork chop or shoulder
- Choucroute garnie – sauerkraut with smoked or salted pork
- Jambon fumé, saucisse d’Ajoie, lard fumé, lard salé frais – smoked ham, Ajoie sausages, smoked and fresh bacon
- Rôti de porc – roasted pork
- Totché – a savory yeasted cake with a cream topping
Altogether, if you eat the traditional mid-day meal for Saint-Martin, it is estimated that you will consume between 3000 to 4000 calories, according to a recent article about Saint-Martin from RTS.info. Honestly, I did not go “whole hog” (pardon the pun), and instead ordered a smaller, one-plate meal from the à la carte menu at the Séminaire à Porrentruy. The full menu was also available for those with larger appetites, for CHF 65 per person. With live entertainment and a fun, friendly atmosphere in the hall — where everyone seemed to know each other — I rather enjoyed my pork-laden lunch.
Not only will you find the feast of Saint-Martin at traditional neighborhood restaurants, but also at a well-known Jurassien restaurant with two Michelin stars: Le Noirmont. Led by Chef Georges Wenger, this restaurant offers a Saint-Martin menu until Friday, November 17, 2017, for CHF 235 per person. Chef Wenger gives a more modern, gastronomic take on some of the classic, rustic dishes that make up the traditional meal.
Marché de Saint-Martin
During the first weekend of Saint-Martin, as well as the following weekend, known as the “Revira,” you can visit the Marché de Saint-Martin in Porrentruy’s historic city center. This year marked the 21st edition of this outdoor public market. With the city’s picturesque castle in the background, I wandered through the stands and enjoyed the lively musical performances. All of the various stands have regional food, wine, beer and spirits available for purchase.
In some ways, the feast of Saint-Martin in Porrentruy, and elsewhere in the Swiss canton of Jura, reminds me a bit like an American Thanksgiving — people giving thanks for a bountiful harvest by coming together around a table for a festive meal of traditional dishes. Rather than turkey, the Jurassiens celebrate with pork. If you have not already experienced it, I recommend a visit to Porrentruy to “Faire la Saint-Martin” (make the Saint-Martin).
- The Marché de Saint-Martin takes place in the city center and is within walking distance (about 10 minutes) of the Porrentruy’s main train station.
The 2018 edition of Saint-Martin will take place November 9-18.