Joannet examines a freshly-pressed blackcurrant juice.
Many visitors to Burgundy are attracted by the
dégustations (tastings) of its world-renowned wines, but locals enjoy a parallel
realm of savours where the grape is not king! Les petits fruits of
Burgundy are the blackcurrants, redcurrants, strawberries and raspberries that
are made into delectable jams, eaux de vie and crèmes.
Eaux de vie are strong, clear alcohols drunk as digestifs
at the end of meals. Crèmes are creamy sweet, colourful liquors made by soaking
fruit in alcohol and adding large amounts of sugar.
In an area known as the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, beyond the
most prestigious vineyards, there are two petits fruits specialists in the
villages of Arcenant and Concoeur-et-Corboin. Wine from the Hautes Côtes, while
indisputably robust and delicious, has traditionally been less renowned than the
wine produced from the lower altitudes. This meant that when phyloxera destroyed
most Burgundian vineyards in the late 1800s, they were replanted much more
slowly and less systematically in the Hautes-Côtes than on the more prestigious
côte viticole. Many local farmers turned instead to the cultivation and sale of
the petits fruits. Their most lucrative use was undoubtedly the sale of black-
currants for the fabrication of the world-famous Crème de Cassis de Dijon.
The cassis (blackcurrant) fruit has the longest history in
Burgundy of any of the petits fruits. It has been cultivated since the arrival
of the Cistercian monks in the 12th century Inevitably the monks began to
experiment, and ended up distilling a rudimentary strong alcohol, an early
predecessor of today’s eau de vie.
Isabelle Olivier conducting a
It was Auguste Denis LaGoute, a café owner from Dijon, who
first established the method for creating Crème de Cassis de Dijon, and his
first successful batch was made in 1844. The recipe remains the same
today—blackcurrants are soaked in alcohol to bring out their flavour and copious
amounts of sugar are added.
For the past 30 years or so, because of cheaper imported
fruit, many farmers have been replanting vines—a more prosperous venture since
the wines of Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits gained their appellation d’origine
contrôlée in 1961. However some families, such as the Oliviers of
Concoeur-et-Corboin, and the Joannets in Arcenant, decided to continue the
family tradition of growing petits fruits.
They devised a clever solution to the problem of the lack
of profitability of the petits fruits as a cash crop. Instead of trying to sell
their fruits direct to manufacturers, they created secret family recipes which
they use to make delicious jams, crèmes, and eaux de vie, selling them direct to
Bottles of crèmes and
eaux de vie are lined up and ready to be put to use.
To enter one of these workshops is a delight for the
senses—the beady aroma of fruit soaking in wine embraces you as you walk through
the door If it is a jam-making day, fruit bubbles away
in large brass bowls. Bottles of rich-coloured crèmes and
potent eaux de vie are lined up on old wine barrels, and rows of dégustation
glasses stand to attention ready to be put to use.
If you are lucky you might visit the Ferme Fruit rouge of
the Oliviers on one of the many days when school groups come for a field trip.
It is a vivid reminder that visiting such places is not only an enjoyable
experience, but is also highly educational. The children are taken up to the
rows of blackcurrant bushes to learn how they are grown and cultivated. Later
they are shown how the fruits are steeped in wine for just the right amount of
time in order to bring out their best flavours. Then it’s down to the
pressing room to see how the fruit is slowly squeezed in a manually operated oak
Isabelle Olivier introducing
school children to the art of jams and fruit syrups.
The children’s favourite is tasting the nonalcoholic
crèmes. Like true Burgundians they are already experts at swirling their glasses
around and making astute observations about the colour and aroma of the crimson
The culture of cassis and the other petits fruits has
suffered many setbacks in recent years. Nevertheless, it has managed to
re-invent itself thanks to these two dedicated families of Arcenant and
Concoeur~et-Corboin.Their products continue to contribute to the gastronomic
wealth and diversity of Burgundy.
Next time you journey to Burgundy to pay homage at the
altar of the noble grape. he sure to take the time to venture up into the
Hautes-Cötes de Nuits. Here you will begin to discover as Sylvain Olivier and
Jean-Baptiste Joannet put it, “les autres choses de Bourgogne".
© 1999, Laura Bradbury & Franck Germain - All