French food focus - December 2018
A focus on food in France. Includes meeting producers, artisan cheese and a local speciality...
Meet the producers
Erick Schreiber produces biodynamic champagne from his own 6.5 hectare vineyard in Champagne, 45km south of Troyes in the Vallée de la Seine. “I can’t explain why, but I always wanted to make wine. Ever since I was a kid, it was my dream, even though my family have nothing to do with wine production. So when I left school I trained at college, and in 1987 I planted my vines and set up my own production.”
He now produces 35,000 bottles of Champagne Schreiber per year, most of it sold in France both to hospitality professionals and the general public, although he also exports extensively.
He goes to several large wine fares as well every year in order to publicise his wines, which are ‘biodynamic’ – which is close but not exactly the same thing as being organic. ‘Biodynamic’ viticulture means cultivating wines according to principles laid out by Rudolf Steiner (who also set up Steiner Schools) – which treats soil fertility and plant growth as interrelated.
Biodynamic viticulture focusses on the use of compost and manure instead of artificial chemicals. It works in harmony with the lunar calendar, and uses herbal and mineral additive for field sprays. Overall, the idea is to harness the forces of nature in a holistic way in order to produce the best, most natural crops whilst also taking care of the soil.
The aim is to connect rich, bio-diverse soil to the light and the rain which fall from the sky. So far, so good, but some elements of the theory stray into spiritual, mystical and astrological territory, leading critics to scoff at the method. In blind tastings, however, biodynamic wines consistently outdo wines produced by more mainstream methods.
“We went biodynamic in 1990, and it works for us,” says Erick Schreiber. “I don’t want to say biodynamic wines are better; they’re just different. More expressive, more drinkable.” His wines are Demeter certified biodynamic as well as organic, making them as natural as a wine can be.
Erick Schreiber is proud of them, and also of his son Gaël who plans to take over the business. Many people drink Champagne at Christmas and New Year, but he says that it can be enjoyed all year round. “Champagne can be drunk at any occasion, from apéros right through to pudding,” he says. ‘And most of it can be drunk at any time of the day!’
Artisan cheese of the month: Brie truffé
When the cheeseboard comes out at a New Year party, the canniest of gourmands around the table will seek out the shining beacon of seasonal indulgence: Brie truffé.
This luxurious blend of delicately creamy Brie de Meaux, which has been sliced horizontally and slathered with an unctuous blend of cream or mascarpone and chopped black truffle is an indulgent, if acquired taste and very rich.
For an artisanal touch, try the truffled cheeses made by Gilles Cénéri at La Crèmerie Royale – the family has boasted a Master Cheesemaker for three generations. Their twist is the use of olive oil and a little white truffle.
Local speciality: Paupiettes de Veau
Paupiettes de veau are veal olives (rolled or stuffed veal fillets) that can be cooked and served in an array of sauces. A la Normande is the Normandy version – made with onion, tomato, herbs, butter and flour, cider (or wine) and cream from Isigny. Available to buy ready to reheat from www.bienmanger.com