Champagne Ardenne Cuisine and Wine
Champagne and How it’s Made
Champagne is undoubtedly the most famous gastronomic product of the Champagne Ardenne but its reputation comes at a price, due partly to labour-intensive manufacture. The harvested grapes are given up to 5 local pressings - the finest (cuvee) wines come from the first 2 or 3. In merchants’ cellars, the juice or ‘must’ is blended, and sugar and wine yeast added for a second fermentation which gives the champagne its sparkle. Removing the sediment created without disturbing the wine is a difficult, time-consuming, manual process. Inverted bottles are turned slowly and eventually frozen so the corks with sediment can be removed. Bottles are then topped up and re-corked. Most champagne stays in the cellars for at least 3 years before sale.
Traditional country food - cuisine du terroir - has a firm place in the gastronomy of Champagne Ardenne. Specialities such as andouillets de Troyes (chitterling sausages), boudin blanc de Rethal (white sausage) and pieds de porc a la Sainte-Menehould (pig’s trotters) reflect their places of origin. Haute Marne is known for its truffles, Marne for brie cheese and the Ardennes for its ham. Terrines and foie gras appear throughout the region and not only vegetarians will enjoy La Joute - a regional vegetable stew. Countryside and forests, including the old royal hunting grounds of Montagne de Reims, produce autumn mushrooms and game for rich winter fare, like wild boar stew (civet de sanglier) and hare (lievre) in cream sauce.
Those who love fine food to accompany their wines should make for Reims which has its own special dishes - many using champagne. Try sandre river fish or salmon, in a cream and champagne sauce. Vinaigre de Reims for salads includes the famous ‘bubbly’ and you can even buy champagne-flavoured mustard. Meat, including tender veal and poultry dishes, are excellent as is aromatic Reims ham. Find local cow’s milk cheeses like cendre de Champagne, Langres, and creamy chaource smelling of mushrooms in the city’s La Cave aux Fromages. Look for delicious chocolate truffles and all manner of biscuits in local patisseries. Reims’s famous biscuits rose, created in the seventeenth century, are often served at champagne tastings.