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French food focus - February 2019

A focus on food in France. Includes meeting producers, artisan cheese and a local speciality...

Meet the producers

Génépi is a herbal liqueur, traditionally made in the Alps using wormwood (Artemisia, pictured above) which is indigenous to the region, and which is also used to make absinthe.

It is usually drunk as a digestif, but has also been known to make an appearance from an inside pocket if the mountain winds are particularly fierce.

Génépi has been made in the Alps since the Middle Ages, often by monks. It was only commercially produced from the 19th century, and only became more widely known with the development of the ski industry in the Alps during the second half of the last century. It is made by steeping wormwood and sugar in a colourless spirit such as vodka or pure grain alcohol.

Recipes vary all across the Alps, many people making their own versions to a family recipe. The natural colour varies from pale gold to a light olive, although some have added colouring to make it bright green.

One of the best-known brands is made by Chartreuse, and Export Director Philippe Rochez says that since the 1980s génépi has become increasingly well-known. “Restaurant owners often offer diners a free glass at the end of a meal so people associate it with Alpine hospitality, making it a perfect souvenir.”

The Chartreuse monks have been making distilled drinks for four centuries, each with its own secret recipe. Their recipe for génépi involves harvesting the flowers in August and then macerating them in 40% proof wine alcohol and sugar for several weeks. “Everyone has their own secrets and, of course, we aren’t giving ours away. You just have to taste it and you’ll know that it’s top quality.”

Génépi is normally drunk after a meal as a shot, or nicely chilled over an ice-cube. But people enjoy it all year round and it is even possible to buy ‘sachets génépi’ on the internet in order to have a bash at making your own.

If you want to branch out, try a shot of génépi in a glass of chilled, dry, white wine as an apéro or – as a refresher on a hot day – a shot of génépi and a shot of mint syrup in a tall glass topped up with ice and fizzy water.

 

Artisan cheese of the month: Soumaintrain

A raw cow’s milk cheese with a pungent aroma, this soft, unpressed fermier (farmhouse) cheese is produced by a group of just five farmers in the Burgundy region. It gets its name from a small village in Yonne.

Its origins are thought to date back as far as the 12th century when Cistercian monks in the region paid their land- rent in soft cheeses with washed rinds such as this.

In keeping with the tradition for imbibing local tipples with native fromages, it is recommended to accompany Soumaintrain with a glass of Burgundy white such as Chablis.

The cheese was awarded the label IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) in June 2016.

 

Local speciality: Navarin d’agneau

Few French dishes speak of their seasonality quite like a navarin d’agneau, a rich, slow-cooked shoulder of lamb ragout (stew) usually featuring fresh spring vegetables.

As well as staples such as carrots and potatoes, an essential addition is some navets, turnips, from which the dish is said to have got its name.

A version is available to reheat, in 750g jars from www.bienmanger.com

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