Everyone has heard of champagne, but fewer people realise that in order to be physically labelled as such, it must be produced in the Champagne region of France – so true champagne can be easily differentiated from the many other varieties of sparkling wine popular today. The primary grapes used in the production of champagne are black Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, but also white Chardonnay. Sample champagne to your heart’s content at the Route de Champagne en Fête, held every August in Aube (5 & 6 August 2017). Festival-goers can purchase a ‘flute passport’ which grants them entrance to tastings at all the participating vineyards.
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 chees to pai 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.
Les biscuits roses de Reims, light, crunchy and vanilla-flavoured cookies, 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.
A 40% liqueur made from ground sloe stones (the fruit of the blackthorn), Prunelle de Troyes is still made using its original recipe in the same building, behind the Cellier Saint-Pierre opposite Troyes cathedral. The building was occupied by wine merchants in the 1800s and has been owned by the Formont family since 1933. Prunelle de Troyes has been distilled since 1840 and won a gold medal at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900. To make it, the sloe stones are ground to release their almond flavour and macerated in alcohol before undergoing a double distillation. Try Prunelle chilled as a digestif, as a cocktail with champagne or on a sorbet or frozen nougat (“le trou Champenois”).