20 March, 2009

The Paris Beat: Spring Break in Alsace

The Paris Beat is covered by our international corespondent Jeanlouise:Jolie. Currently She's in Paris working her way through the baking and pastry program at Le Cordon Bleu. This week is Spring break and she traveled to the Alsace region to report on doughnuts gone wild.

Hi macs, you would luv this place- Alsace is pork heaven.

Last week, I took my final exam in the intermediate pastry program. It was a real stinker of an exam, but I passed at least. I had to prepare a cake given only an ingredients list, 2.5 hours and a chef breathing down my neck. Well, after that it was spring break, and with Cancun outta reach, me and a pal opted instead to spend a week exploring the scene in Alsace.

Alsace is located in the north-eastern corner of France. This tiny region is separated from neighboring Germany by the Rhine and from the rest of France by the Vosges mountains to the west. It is a unique area with its own Germanic language, culture, and mostly Lutheran religion.

I was attracted to Alsace because of its wines: principally white and ranging from refreshingly dry and mineral to late harvest sweet wines. I am now in love with Rieslings (the nice minerally dry ones in particular). All the other stuff is pretty good as well. Something for everyone, right? Because wines in Alsace are identified by grape rather than geography, they were much easier for me to get a handle on. A Pinot Blanc is a Pinot Blanc, Muscat is Muscat, etc. It’s a grand cru if it’s grown in a field identified as producing superior grapes. That’s the about it when it comes to the basics. I’ve come to appreciate more and more (thanks to France . . .) that wine is best with food and food best with wine. So I had to pleasure of digging into not only the wine, but also the food that it goes best with-- the food of Alsace! Here’s what’s for the chomping in Alsace. . . . .

Alsatian Sauerkraut(Choucroute): A mound of sauerkraut topped with a variety of porcine delights including belly, ceverlas, blood sausage, frankfurters, ham, pork knuckle. . . ). It was awesome, and my major splurge in the meals department. I kept thinking, Jolie, you should eat more belly, that is where the flavor is. Also blood sausage, super rich and delicious, I should eat more of that. The wine pairing that works best with this pork fest is a Riesling or a Sylvaner (I had a nice grand cru Riesling).

Onion Tart: Not quite dessert, but not totally savory, one thing this pie definitely is is delicious . . . throw in a nice green salad and a glass of Sylvaner and you got some serious plans. The simple prep to deliciousness ratio is definitely in the cook’s favor.

Flammekueche: This is essentially a flour tortilla type crust topped with crème fraiche, onions and bacon. There are other variations, but this is the basic recipe. Here is what I want to know: hows come this thing tastes so good? Is it the crème fraiche? Is it the bacon? I tried it with beer and I had it with Riesling. Both were great, so do what feels right.

Snails: Snails are delicious. I recommend if you haven’t tried them, just do it. You know who you are. Seriously, don’t think about your garden, just chomp. I haven’t seen these things for sale in the market, which seems curious, but I would be very interested in trying them at home. Supposedly the cooking process is long (several hours). I guess that means it takes a while to get the slime outta them slugs. Wait, you’re not supposed to be thinking about that part! Pop a bottle of Alsatian Riesling to help you forget . . .

Kougelhpf: This is the emblematic pastry of Alsace and these things are everywhere. It’s got all the good looks of a bundt cake and all the nail biting excitement of a coffee cake. I’m saving my chomping for something more yumm-o, as the feller says. The ‘vendage tardives’ or late harvest wines tend to be quite sweet because they are left on the vine and infected with noble rot (a friendly fungus that concentrates the juices in the grape by removing water from the fruit). These wines are great for pairing with fruit tarts and other sweets though the traditional pairing for kouglehopf is a glass of gewürztraminer.

Munster cheese: Ok, I thought I knew what Munster cheese. Its white, got that reddish rind and is chewy and mild? Well maybe at the Kroger, but in Alsace Munster is hard-core in your face. It is a goopy, washed rind stinker of a cheese. I went to the village of Munster, found a local cheese monger and picked up 350 grams of the stuff.

The dude says, lady, this cheese has real attitude. I was all like, kewl, I'm all into attitude; I'm a wild and crazy guy, quoi. Well, I had no idea what I was getting into.

That cheese is crazed like a coon hound, it's cute at first, but you get into your third or fourth helping of the thing and you’re like, wait, you’re not cute anymore, you’re just insane. Well, thankfully the Munster didn’t dig through my purse and chew up my cell phone, eat Jo’s glasses or jump out of a moving car, but wow, I don’t know if I’ll have that again for a while.

Pair with Gewurztraminer, the only wine gutsy enough to stand up to that stuff. Hey, daredevils: try it. You might like it. If not, at least you’ll have more hair on your chest. Now to find le nair. . .

Donuts, donuts, donuts. Like any good girl from Columbus, I luvs me my donuts. Imagine my delight to find like-minded people in Alsace after spending so much time in the donut desert of Paris! Donuts done right and filled with jelly, pudding, or shaped into pretzels and coated with sugar abound.

Yeah, all that and I even chomped a real live apple fritter. I kept thinking maple logs would go over real well here. The Alsatian donuts (or beignets as they are called locally) are serious, confident and satisfying. I paired them with coffee and got off to a great start each and every day. . . .

I’ve got recipes for everything except the donuts if you is interested. I really encourage you to get up to your local wine dude see what they have in the way of Alsatian wines because they are a delight! I am also trying to convince the director at the Clintonville Compound to plant some vines on the front hill- bonne idea, non?

More from Paris soon.



Andrew said...

Looks truly glorious-I guess the pat I gave myself on the back for the locally produced munster was premature given its wholly unoffensive nature!

Dave said...

Alsace is food baby! I went in 2002. Lucky enough to get a tour around from a couple friends from Dijon. My first plate looked just like the first plate. Can't take a doggy bag in France and don't want to look unappreciative, so I tried my hardest to eat it all. Uph. I was sooo stuffed.

And the kugelhopf, ... it's all amazing. I'm getting hungry and only got half way through the post.

Is your correspondent family?

Very cool post.

mac said...

Hey Dave, thanks for checking in, yeah Jolie est ma sœur, growed in the same ruff patch of C-ville. In addition to the Paris Beat, She has sent reports from Turkey and Ethiopia. The girl gets around. I just got my ticket to Paris, I'm gonna hook up with my sister and my brother, rent some bicycles and tear up the place!

Dave said...

I just can't imagine how proud you must be. Have fun!