For many years Champagne has been the best-marketed product in the wine trade. It is synonymous with luxury. To make the message stick, companies associate themselves with excellence. They are at smart sporting events, cultural highlights, designer fashion shows; they sponsor gastronomic competitions, generously donate wine for high-end charity events, and much else. These kind of marketing strategies cost a lot but there is an expectation that Champagne is expensive, and this is part of its appeal for some. Wasting Champagne by pouring it over champions is an essential ingredient in their ability to charge a premium price. Recently the rise of independent grower's Champagne is tapping into a completely different market.
The big champagne "Houses", or brands, use luxurious hospitality as a brilliant tool. Thus it may seem a bit of a paradox that this wine area has such a homely local cuisine. But the champagne vineyards,with their chalky slopes and small villages spread over a large area, are quite far north for vines, and in the food markets of northern Europe brassicas and root vegetables rule.
During the harvest, whether as part of large team at one of the well-known Houses, or a small group with an independent grower, pickers eat a lot of cabbage dishes - it just feels right here. Potée champenoise is a classic,using dried haricot beans, leeks, turnips, carrots, onions, salt pork, and often a large boiling sausage. A cross between soup and a stew, it is rustic comforting food, perfect for a crowd.
(The full recipe is in Recipes from the French Wine Harvest, easily available as an e-book).
Here is a quick, simple dish we can all use:
Cabbage and Bacon to serve with pork chops or sausages
FOR 6 - 8 PEOPLE
1 medium Savoy cabbage
250 g (8 oz) smoked streaky bacon in one piece
Start by boiling the cabbage, quartered and cored, in water. While it is boiling for 5 to 10 minutes you have time to remove the rind from the bacon and chop it into dice. Drain the cabbage well and chop it finely. Put a flameproof casserole over a moderate heat on top of the stove. Add the bacon and let the fat melt. Add the cabbage and mix it with the bacon. Stir for a few minutes over the heat so that the cabbage finishes cooking.