Finesse and elegance is key to the cuisine of Champagne and many of the local dishes can be paired with a champagne, giving a unique match. Refinement is also reflected in many of the ingredients, although the rural aspect of the region also offers more hearty produce from the ‘terroir’.
The Champagne capital’s famous ham is a must-try speciality. Nutmeg, parsley and shallots are added to the ham and shoulder of pork, which is then cooked in stock before being seasoned and coated in yellow breadcrumbs. You can find it sold either in a large rectangular block or small individual cylinders. Enjoy it with salad and dauphinoise or simply in small cubes as an aperitif as the locals do – but Champenois chefs use it in numerous recipes so you’ll find it on menus everywhere.
Although the grains for this mustard are no longer cultivated in France, producers have recently collaborated to replant them around Dijon. It’s only the Maison Charbonneaux-Brabant that has kept the Reims mustard tradition alive, offering a range of 12 recipes all with a reputation for quality and excellence. The original recipe is smooth and pale yellow and owes its particular flavour to the vinegar content and addition of spices.
Champagne has a couple of very good cheeses worth trying on your visit. Chaource is a soft cows’-milk cheese with a creamy, slightly crumbly texture and encased in a white rind. It is matured for two to three months but many people like to eat young Chaource, when the rind is hardly formed. Chaource is the ideal cheese to pair with champagne as well as delicate white wines such as Chablis. Langres is also made from cows’ milk and has held AOC status since 1919. It’s similar to but milder than Epoisses, slightly salty with a strong aroma. After five weeks of maturation, it’s typically consumed between May and August but also tastes excellent from March through to December. Try it with the local red wine Muid Montsaugeonnais or a Vin de Coiffy.
Champagne also unearths these prized natural delicacies from the forest floors in Marne, earlier in the season than in the Périgord. Originally considered inferior to their western cousins, the truffles from Champagne are now considered of equal quality and are best used in their raw state to preserve their delicate hazelnut flavour. Production varies from year to year and prices fluctuate around €40 per 100g; the Marne department also boasts an association dedicated to protecting and promoting the truffles from Champagne and neighbouring Burgundy.
Les biscuits roses de Reims, light, crunchy and vanilla-flavoured, are some of the oldest French biscuits – local residents are fond of dipping them into a glass of champagne, since they don’t break when moistened. The recipe for this tasty treat dates back to the 17th century, when a Champenois baker wanted to take advantage of the heat of the bread oven in between batches. He had the idea to create a special dough and bake it twice; the word ‘biscuit’ literally means ‘twice-baked’. The little cookies were originally white but the vanilla beans used to flavour them left unappealing brown spots, so the baker used a natural red dye to cover them. Buy them from Maison Fossier in the city, who have been making them since 1691.
Chocolates: Bouchons de Champagne
These heavenly dark chocolates, filled with Marc de Champagne liqueur and moulded in the shape of champagne corks, have been made in the region since the 1950s. Their origin is somewhat mysterious, generally attributed to Guy Jubin, former owner of artisan chocolatier La Petite Friande in Reims. They make excellent souvenirs of the region: find them in local boulangeries where they’re either made on site or provided by famous label Chocogil. We challenge you to eat just one…