Lorraine: Quiche, Plums, and a bit of Wine
September 9, 2016 Leave a comment
Lorraine—home of the famous quiche, a particular plum, and just a little bit of wine—is located in northeast France, just west of Alsace. Lorraine was an administrative region of France from 1982 until January 2016; since that time it has been part of the region known as Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine. Lorraine makes up over half of the French border with Germany, and is also the only French (historical) region to border three countries (Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg).
Lorraine has never really caught my attention in a big way, as most of my knowledge of French geography (and to be honest, world geography) is based on my wine studies. As the Lorraine area is home of only two AOCs (Côtes de Toul and Moselle) in addition to the Côtes de Meuse IGP, I kind of overlooked the area. I have, however, always been a fan of Quiche Lorraine—and I am quite embarrassed to admit I always thought that the “Lorraine” referred to the Loire. Time to remedy this—read on to learn about three of the leading products of the Loire: Quiche Lorraine, Mirabelle plums, and the wine!
Quiche Lorraine: Definitely one of the best-known dishes in French cuisine, Quiche Lorraine is part of the Lorraine area’s German heritage. Quiche actually originated in Germany, and the word “quiche” is derived by “kuchen” (cake). While the original (German) version of the dish was baked in a brioche shell, the French version is a cream-and-egg pie baked in a savory pie-style pastry shell. True Quiche Lorraine is made with eggs, cream, and lardons—and no cheese! Most modern recipes include eggs, cream, bacon or chopped ham, and a good measure of cheese such Gruyère or Emmentaler.
Also good to know: Two of France’s most famous cookies—the Madeleine and the Macaron—also have ties to the Lorraine area. The Madeleine, a shell-shaped, cake-like cookie, is believed to have originated in the town of Commercy and named after the cook for Stanislas Leczinski, Duke of Lorraine. The cookies are often referred to as Madeleines de Commercy.
The Macaron, aka Macarons de Nancy—the delightful almond and meringue sandwich cookies that are currently enjoying quite a popular run—originated in the town of Nancy. Legend holds that they were first produced by the Sisters of Les Dames du Saint Sacrement who were expert bakers due to the fact that meat was prohibited in their Convent!
Mirabelle Plums: The yellow plum of the area, the Mirabelle, actually has PGI status as the Mirabelle de Lorraine. (There is also a PGI for the eau-de-vie made from the plums—more on that later.) Mirabelle plums have been appreciated world-wide since the famous French food critic Jean-Pierre Coffe (who was born in Lorraine) stated “Happiness exists. I’ve met it. It weighs 14.3 grams and it comes from Lorraine.”
Lorraine actually produces over 70% of the world’s Mirabelle plums. While they certainly can be enjoyed on their own, the plums are often made into tarts, jams and the famous clafoutis of the area in addition to being used in savory dishes such as honey-glazed duck with mirabelle plums.
Two specific types of the plum, Mirabelle de Nancy and Mirabelle de Metz, are used to produce a local brandy known as Eau-de-Vie de Mirabelle or simply “Mirabelle.” Eau-de-Vie de Mirabelle has PGI (protected geographic indication) status as well as being classified as an AOR (appellation d’origine réglementée—a specific classification used for certain eaux-de-vie and marcs that are produced outside the larger areas such as Bordeaux and Burgundy).
Eau-de-vie de Mirabelle has been described as aromatic with intense flavors of plums and baking spices with a bit of sweetness on the palate. Versions of Mirabelle (and other types of plum brandy) are made in many areas of the world, but the Mirabelle de Lorraine PGI/AOR product is special. The best I have ever tasted was from the Distillerie Maucourt located in Marieulles, just a few miles south of Metz.
A Little Bit of Wine: Lorraine is a small producer as far as French regions go, and only contains two AOCs. The Moselle AOC is named after the French department of the same name as well as the Moselle River (better known to wine lovers as the famous Mosel River of Germany). The source of the Moselle is in France’s Vosges Mountains near the border of Alsace and Lorraine. The Moselle flows (mostly north) through Lorraine for 195 miles (315 km), then forms the border between Germany and Luxembourg for 25 miles (40 km) before it becomes the famous river of Germany’s Mosel Valley (at least until if flows into the Rhine).
The Moselle AOC is located in the northern portion of Lorraine, along the Moselle River, very near the city of Metz, and close to the border with Luxembourg and Germany. The AOC produces a small amount of wine, mainly dry and off-dry, in red, white, and rosé. White wines are produced using at least 50% Auxerrois; the remainder may be Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, or Riesling. A maximum of 10% Gewurztraminer may also be used, and varietally-labeled Pinot Gris and Müller-Thurgau is also produced. The red wines of the Moselle AOC are 100% Pinot Noir, and the rosés are a blend of Pinot Noir (minimum 70%) and Gamay.
The Côtes de Toul AOC is located a bit further to the south, closer to the town of Nancy. The Côtes de Toul AOC also produces red, white, and rosé wines, with its specialty begin vin gris (very pale rosé made using the direct press method). These rosés are made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay (both are required), and may also include Pinot Meunier, Aubin, and Auxerrois. The white wines of the Côtes de Toul AOC are produced from Auxerrois or Aubin, and the red wines are Pinot Noir.
Note: Interestingly enough, in Pre-AOC days, grapes grown in Lorraine were shipped to Champagne to be made into the world’s favorite sparkling wine. This worked out well for a while, as Lorraine stayed phylloxera-free much longer than many other regions in France, including Champagne. Eventually grape growers in the actual Champagne region put a stop to the grape invaders, as AOC laws were passed (then revised, then ignored, then passed again). After phylloxera (eventually) devastated the vineyards of Lorraine, they never recovered to their former levels.
References/for more information:
The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… firstname.lastname@example.org