Lorraine, an Old Beer Region
Lorraine is often bracketed with Alsace in the term Alsace-Lorraine to express the territory encompassed by these old provinces. Implied too is a certain cultural distinctiveness, albeit it varies between Alsace and Lorraine and even within them.
Certainly Alsace and Lorraine have many different traditions, reflecting their distinct earlier history. Lorraine, especially outside the Moselle area annexed by Germany in 1871 together with Alsace, had a notable admixture of old Latin elements. Accordingly, Romance dialects survive there together with Germanic ones.
Lorraine and its cross connote the industrial – steel, textiles, lumber; touristic, as the Vosges mountains, and spas; and military, latterly, Verdun but much else associated to the First World War. As well, there are the number and influence of its principal cities such as Metz, Nancy, Epinal, and Thionville. Alsace has fewer concentrated population centres.
Still, Franco and German influences have intermingled in these provinces for centuries, and an appreciation for malted beverages is common to both, both historically and today in terms of a renaissance.
This post is concerned with the brewing tradition of Lorraine and more particularly as manifest in its cuisine.
Like Alsace, Lorraine is an old brewing region. There were many breweries at one time but closure and consolidation reduced the old-established ones to a handful. The survivors today are part of trans-national companies, including a famous name of Lorraine brewing, Champigneulles. Champigneulles, however, is not in a mega-group such as Heineken or Carlsberg. A German company comprising three breweries owns it, and the French wing operates much as it always did.
Champigneulles was a byword in France as a whole for fine beer after 1945. The name has been restored to the brewery’s labels after a long gap, a welcome step. The website describes the main brands produced today and they sound very good.
A number of craft breweries (mini-brasseries) have arrived to add welcome variety to the remaining old school breweries. Those interested in the beer traditions of Lorraine would profit, as I did, from visiting the fine beer museum in Stenay, an old citadel town. It is housed in a venerable structure used variously in the past as a military storehouse and for a maltings.
Lorraine’s Beer Dishes
Lorraine’s beer cookery is rather hidden. One may consult reputable sources on its regional cuisine, and find no reference to any beer dish. Still, it cannot be denied that a beer cuisine exists in Lorraine, without being trumpeted to be sure. A source of incontestable veracity in this regard is the historical survey of Lorraine brewing, Bières de Meuse et de Lorraine by the late beer historian, Philippe Voluer (Editions de L’Est, 1991).
One of the many of M. Voluer’s publications on French brewing, the book’s culinary chapter sheds light on an obscure corner of Lorraine cuisine. The chapter insists on the authenticity of its beer dishes, to the point M. Voluer felt obliged to note of Lorraine’s beer soup that for its part, the tradition may not predate WW I. Indeed, he did not shrink from suggesting that the dish arrived with German occupation.
Of the recipes whose authenticity is not qualified M. Voluer offers one for hop shoots cooked in water. He recommends it to accompany an omelette, or to be covered with béchamel and finished in the oven. Such is the local interest in this obscure vegetable, said to resemble young asparagus, that he states a mustard sauce is de rigueur.
Fish of the Lorraine rivers – pike, say or carp – is cooked traditionally in blonde beer with shallots, garlic, thyme, bay, and fennel. The book notes that in the 1800s locals used a spiced beer for this and a Belgian white beer is advised to copy the effect. There is beef cooked with beer, onions, carrots, green herbs – different it appears from the famous carbonnade of French Flanders.
The famous sauerkraut of Alsace is almost as popular in Lorraine. Voluer states beer was always used in some versions and renders the dish less acidic than wine. Chicken with beer pops up, a recipe rather similar in this case to that of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, but carrots appear, which I don’t recall in the recipes of Lille and surroundings.
A recipe in another book I have advises adding diluted beer to the pan of a roasting goose. I mentioned in my previous post on Alsace beer cuisine that Lorraine’s cooks also use beer to baste turkey.
Returning to Bières de Meuse et de Lorraine, its “carnival” beignet is enriched not just with beer but orange or lemon zest, cream, butter and eau de vie. The batter is also used to encase slices of apple which are, to boot, given a preliminary soaking in plum eau de vie. A crêpe recipe calls for not less than a bottle of beer. With all this use of beer in pastry, I could not locate a recipe for quiche lorraine – the queen surely of Lorraine gastronomy – that uses beer as an ingredient. Not even modern chefs resolutely on the road to personal creativity seem willing to take that one on.
Somme toute, we have in Lorraine a small but respectable inventory of local beer dishes. Beer cuisine is a small branch of the river that is Lorraine gastronomy, but is no less valid for that.
It is likely too, as for Alsace, that beer cuisine was the province of countless ménagères, whose food was handed down for generations in the maternal line. This bonne femme cooking is not the kind, I apprehend, automatically included by those who prepare repertories of provincial cuisine.
Note re images: The first was sourced at a French tourism site, here, the second, here, and the third, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.