How can you enjoy French food and wine like a pro? It begins by understanding the unique specialties of each region. In Part Four of our guide to French cuisine we’re exploring the flavors of eastern France, from world renowned wines to quintessential dishes.
The Food and Wine of Eastern France
The eastern regions of France range from Champagne-Ardenne (best-known for its bottles of bubbly) down through the German-influenced Alsace region, into Burgundy and the French Alps, producing a wide-range of flavors and dishes.
Beaujolais Wines : Wine from the Beaujolais region is largely made from the Gamay grape, which produces a light-bodied and acidic red wine. For food pairings, many sommeliers recommend treating it like a white wine (you can even chill it a little) and pairing it with salad or seafood dishes.
On the third Thursday in November, Beaujolais has its day in the spotlight with Beaujolais Nouveau Day. This is when the young, first vintages of the year are released to the world. Nouveau’s are the lightest and fruitiest of all the Beaujolias, perfect for an aperitif before dinner, c'est magnifique!
Alsace Wines: Similar to Germany, the Alsatian region of France produces many prized white wine varietals (red wine–predominantly Pinot Noir–only accounts for 10% of production) including Rieslings, Gewurztraminers and Pino Gris. If you’d like to try a lesser-known varietal from the region, choose a Pinot Blanc, a full-bodied and extremely aromatic white wine. White wines from Alsace pair well with seafood and dishes with creamy sauces.
Boeuf Bourguignon: One of the most well-known dishes from Burgundy is boeuf bourguignon. Beef is slowly braised in red wine and beef both, with carrots and mushrooms added near the end of the braising. While it’s now seen as high-class cuisine, boeuf bourguignon was originally a peasant dish.
Burgundy Wines: The Grand Dames of French wine, white and red wines from Burgundy are prized around the world. Reds in the region are predominantly Pinot Noirs, a light-to-medium bodied wine with aromas of blackberry, cherry, and blackcurrant. Chardonnay is the main type of white wine in the region. This type of wine is full-bodied, buttery and gets its distinct “oaky” flavor from being aged in French oak barrels. For an exceptional bottle, look for a Burgundy with a Grand Cru distinction on the label.
Coq au Vin: This translates to “rooster with wine,” though these days the dish is made with chicken. Similar to boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin is made by braising the protein in red wine, and since it’s a Burgundy dish, Pinot Noir is the traditional wine of choice. The dish also contains lardons (think an un-smoked version of bacon) and mushrooms.
Comté: One of the country’s most popular cheeses, comet is a French-style Gruyere, made from unpasteurized cow’s milk that’s been matured for at least four months. For a wine pairing, go for a white Burgundy.
Champagne: Champagne has become a generic term for any kind of bubbly wine, but in order to be a true Champagne the wine has to come from the Champagne-Ardenne region, and can only be made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. Champagnes range in sweetness from Extra Brut (very dry) to Doux (very sweet).
Most Champagnes are made from a number of different grape vintages (years) and are labeled ‘Non-Vintage’ or N.V., but when it’s been an exceptional grape growing year, only that year’s grapes are used, and its ‘Vintage’ is noted on the label. 2012 was the most recent year an exceptional vintage wines, and while the bottles are still aging, 2015 is said to have produced an outstanding crop as well.
Choucroute Garnie: A specialty of Alsace, this recipe has German roots. Often found on the menus of French Brasseries, choucroute garnie is a dish of warmed sauerkraut, mixed with sausages and boiled potatoes.
Escargot: It’s hard to think of a dish more quintessentially French than escargot. A specialty of Burgundy, these snails can be served in a number of styles, but the most traditional (and arguably, most delicious) way is baked in the shell with liberal amounts of garlic butter. Unsure of how to use the tools that come along with the dish? Use the tongs to grip the shell and hold it steady while you use the snail fork to pry out the meat. Don’t forget to dip your bread into the leftover garlic butter!
Flammekueche: Craving a little pizza while in France? Try ordering a flammekueche , also commonly called tarte flambée. It’s another German-influenced dish from Alsace, consisting of bread dough, topped with crème fraiche , thinly-sliced onions and lardons, all baked in a wood-fired oven.
Fromage Blanc: This is a soft white cheese, kind of like a cross between cream cheese and cottage cheese. You won’t find it on many cheeseboards. Instead it’s often treated like yogurt or served with fresh fruit as a quick and effortless dessert.
Gougères: Light and airy, gougères are savory hors d'oeuvres made from choux pastry (the same pastry used for cream puffs and éclairs) mixed with cheese, usually Gruyere. A few of these, along with a glass of champagne makes a fantastic and indulgent afternoon snack.
Gratin Dauphinois: A decadent side dish to any accompany any hearty French main, gratin dauphinois is a casserole made from thin slices of garlic-rubbed potato layered together and cooked in heavy cream in a shallow dish.
Pain d’Epices: Where we have banana bread, the French have pain d’epices, a delicious quick bread loaf that’s sweetened with lots of honey and intensely flavored with spices including cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. It’s a popular after-school snack among children.
Tarte Tatin: Created at the Hotel Tatin in a small town just outside of Paris, this dessert is ooey and gooey in the best possibly way. Tart Tatin is an apple tart that’s cooked upside–in butter and sugar–in a cast iron skillet. As it cooks, the sugar and butter mixture caramelizes the apple slices, giving the tart it’s distinct golden-brown hue and rich flavor.
Although eastern France is not accessible via cruise, many guests enjoy extending their vacations by traveling before or after a cruise. Learn more about Azamara voyages to western Europe here
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