Beer And Its Cuisine Have No Borders In France

france-regions-map-500      (Map reproduced by authority of the travel website www.allaboutfrance.com)

RESUME OF THE FRENCH BEER CULINARY TRADITION

In the last three posts, I discussed the beer cookery traditions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Alsace, and Lorraine in France. It is useful to spot these regions on the map above. (“IdF” below Picardy is Isle de France, where Paris is, as many will know).

What is immediately noticeable is the regions adjoining these places such as Champagne, Picardy and the northern part of Normandy. Indeed, Champagne is really two regions, Champagne proper and Ardennes in the north, the French counterpart to the Belgian Ardennes.

The Ardennes is a forested, largely rural area, a hunting territory famous for game, hams, and pâtés but also beer and breweries. Indeed Champagne-Ardenne as a whole had more breweries than Lorraine in the heyday of brewing in these areas towards the end of the 1800s, over 300. It is no surprise therefore to find a Soupe à la Bière de Mézières in Recueil de la Gastronomie Champenoise et Ardennaise by Annick and Patrick Demouy (Editions S.A.E.P., 1983). This version uses blonde beer, onions, butter, garlic – no cream or eggs, or brown sugar or hard alcohol, as in some neighboring regions – a lean, spare version, as suits a lovely but austere land. The book says to serve it with slices of toasted bread and grated Gruyère.

Givet_-_Vue_de_la_Meuse_et_du_fort_de_Charlemont

[Attribution: By MOSSOT (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]

As in many countries where borders, or former frontiers, are close and people move around for trade and other reasons, culinary traditions are fluid. Picardy has a tradition of beer dishes influenced by French Flanders. Ninette Lyon, a French food writer, observed that one encounters a “perfume” of Flanders in Picardy in the form of e.g., rabbit with prunes, leek tart, and things with brown sugar. In all of these, beer sometimes makes an appearance. Picardy, too, had an active brewing tradition in the past, one revived in recent years with the micro-brewing phenomenon.

The coastal region between Boulogne and Dunkerque – the littoral of the Picard and Flemish corner in the far northwest – has its own beer dishes, many based on fish. In one, haddock, meaning there a salted and smoked fish, is bathed with beer to freshen and enliven it. Smoked herring is sometimes treated similarly. That region in general is a vegetable larder, and one recipe blends beer, white wine and the local gin with celery root, cauliflower, onion, shallot and tomato. It is served lukewarm (tiède), and is a rare kind of northern ratatouille. Boozy, too, but the northerners like it that way. Try their spiked coffee or bistouille which can include rum, brandy, genever gin or all three!

Brittany has in recent decades enjoyed a brewing renaissance to match its age-old cider tradition, and Normandy too to an extent. Certainly, over a wide belt of the north in France, a beer cuisine exists, not just in the Flemish and Alsatian heartlands. In a word, regions or pays without an indigenous or at least strong brewing culture are influenced by the dishes next-door.

Paris not least is an example, but with an international dimension. Beer has been enjoyed there for hundreds of years. Even before the revival of top-fermentation and other craft brewing, bar-restaurants focusing on the beer traditions of the country, or on German or English traditions, could be found on both sides of the Seine. The Académie de la Bière on boul. Port Royal is a good example of a classic Parisian beer temple. Founded in the 1950s, it was and remains largely a Belgian-style bar-restaurant but features good French and foreign beers, too. A typical dish there is mussels cooked in beer.

A glance at the rating site, Beer Advocate, shows that numerous beer bars, and brewpubs, in Paris have joined the older school of Belgian, German and English-influenced bar-restaurants and represent more contemporary craft brewing trends. This has been stimulated both by international brewing developments and the implantation of small breweries all over France selling IPA and other styles familiar to craft beer fans anywhere. This report gives an excellent update of the progress beer and its culture has made in Paris.

Given that craft brewing is now a vibrant industry all over France, there is every reason to think that all the regional cuisines will in time develop a beer cuisine branch.