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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Kirsch, the cherry brandy. Kirsch in French Cuisine. In Some French Regions called Guignolet

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Kirsch from the Alsace, France.
Kirsch, Guignolet or Kirschwasser.
From the North to the South of France, Kirsch, that enjoyable cherry brandy will be on many menus. Kirsch will be added to sauces, desserts, cakes or a cheese fondue. Then again, it may be offered on its own, when very cold, as an aperitif or at room temperature as a digestive.
The history of Kirsch
Kirsch is a traditional, colorless, cherry brandy with 40% to 45% alcohol made from the slightly sour Morello cherries. (Some manufacturers allow cherry juice to color their product). The creation of Kirsch is claimed by both France and Germany.  However, the honor for the earliest version of Kirsch goes, as you may have guessed, to the usual suspects, the Romans. When the Romans colonized France around 100 BCE, they brought cherry trees to continue enjoying wines flavored with cherry juice. The Romans had colonized Spain about 100 years before and knew from those earlier settlers that to enjoy all the comforts of home they needed to import vines, tree seedlings, as well as many of the other fruits and vegetables they had enjoyed when in Rome.  
Along with the cherry trees, the Romans brought plum trees, apricot trees, almond trees and many others. The Romans left nothing to chance and they also brought the art of snail farming and fattening geese for foie gras, their fattened livers.  N.B. The method of distilling fruit juice and creating high alcohol level liquors was only invented in the 12th century, long after the Romans had disappeared from France. The French quickly adopted the science of distillation and within 100 to 300 years many French liquors including Kirsch were born.

Morello cherries, the source of the best Kirsch.
What does Kirsch taste and smell like?

Most of the taste comes from the fruit, but some crushed cherry pits (stones) are included in the recipe.  From the fruits and the pits, Kirsch retains a smooth cherry aftertaste and a cherry bouquet with a slightly bitter almond taste which saves the liquor from being too sweet. Kirsch is distilled twice and that produces a smooth brandy.
The origin of the word brandy.
When the Dutch turned wines into liquor the result was called  “brandewijn”; that meant burnt wine. Brandewijn was the word that would become brandy. So Kirsch is a fruit eau-de-vie or fruit brandy. For the story behind the Dutch and Cognac click here.
Kirsch is produced in many French regions.
There are many respected French producers of Kirsch, with the most well-known coming from the regions of France-Comte and the Alsace in the North of France.  With so many famous producers French Kirsch probably needs a small book. That is too much for this post and I have not tasted enough of the most well-known products to be able to compare.  For this post I have chosen the Kirsch that comes from in and around the small, charming, town of Fougerolles in the department of Haute-Saône in the region of the Franche-Comté. 

Kirsch from the Fougerolles
In Fougerolles and elsewhere Kirsch is also called Guignolet.
The cherries that flavored their wine were called guignes by the Romans. Still today you will see that many local breweries around Fougerolles, and elsewhere, sell the liquor as Guignolet as well as Kirsch. Cherries and guignes have been keeping the Fougerolles busy for hundreds of years. Certainly Kirsch and or Guignolet have been made in Fougerolles for over 500 years.

Guignolet de Kirsch Védrenne
Photograph courtesy of CDiscount.
Kirsch or Guignolet on French menus:
Clafoutis aux Cerises et au Kirsch – A cherry clafoutis flavored with Kirsch. The original clafoutis were made with cherries; here you have that clafoutis recipe  with added Kirsch.

A heart shaped cherry clafoutis.
Confiture de Bleuets au KirschA bilberry jam flavored with Kirsch
Fondue au Fromage : Emmental, Comté, Beaufort, Champignons Forestiers, Lardons Fumés, Vin Blanc, Kirsch – A fondue made with three of France’s most famous cheeses, French Emmental, Comte, and Beaufort; made with added wild mushrooms, bits of smoked bacon, white wine and Kirsch.  The bacon pieces may be flavoring the fondue but the mushrooms will be for dipping alongside the bread.

Dipping the bread in a cheese fondue.

How a cheese fondue is made and served.
Cheese fondues will have all the cheeses melted together with white wine, and other additions that may include Kirsch liquor, lemon juice and a clove or two of garlic.  This is a dish where French bread comes into its own, small pieces of bread are dipped into the mixture at the end of special long forks and then eaten. Cheese fondues are made with a variety of cheeses, mostly regional preferences.  As with meat fondues beware hot fondue forks; move the cheese from the fork you dipped with to your plate and then transfer to another fork to eat. Burnt tongues are a common work accident when enjoying fondues!  The special bowl in which the cheese is melted is called a caquelon.
Gâteau de la Foret Noir - Black Forest cake. This is an incredibly rich cake created in the hamlets of the Black Forest in Germany, but it will be on many French menus. This is a layered chocolate cake made with just a few ingredients:  fresh sour cherries, chocolate, butter, cream, kirsch, vanilla and whipped cream. All will be encased in chocolate shavings and topped with cherries and cream.  When travelling in the black forest in Germany you will have to ask for a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte or they may not know what you are talking about. Remember, in Germany they compete with France for the honor of creating Kirsch.

Gâteau de la Foret Noir.
In Germany the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte.

Magret de Canard, Sauce aux Cerises et au KirschDuck breast prepared with a cherry and Kirsch sauce.

Duck breast in a cherry based sauce.

Mousse Glacée aux Cerises Macérées au Kirsch d'Alsace – A mousse, served frozen, flavored with cherries macerated in a Kirsch that was produced in the region of Alsace.  N.B. Macerated fruits are made by steeping them in sweetened alcoholic liquor; when the fruit has absorbed enough alcohol it may be served, or it may be bottled for future use.

Cherries macerated in Kirsch on sale.
Tarte Flambée aux Griottes et au Kirsch – The acclaimed tarte flambe from the Alsace, here made with sour cherries, griottes and Kirsch. Griottes, by definition, are the slightly sour, Morello cherries. The original Kirsch was only made with Morello cherries; however, with Kirsch now being made all over the world, other slightly sour cherries are often used.

Tarte flambée in a wood burning oven
Tartelette aux Châtaignes et Chocolat avec Mousse au Kirsch – A small tart made with chestnuts and a chocolate mousse flavored with Kirsch. 

Cherry blossom
Tartare de St-Jacques en Rosace de Melon et sa Vinaigrette au Guignolet – A tartar of the meat from the King Scallop served with melon cut into petals and served with a fan or floral shape. The tartar is flavored with a vinaigrette sauce made with Kirsch.
 If you are visiting the town of Fougerolles, make sure you leave enough time to visit their Écomusée du Pays de la Cerise, their museum of cherries. The museum takes you through the process of growing cherries until their final appearance as a brandy inside a bottle. In case you do not like Kircsh the town is now also well known for it legalised Absinthe. 
For visitors Fougerolles has an English language website:


Inside the Écomusée du Pays de la Cerise,.
The Fougerolles museum of cherries.
The Fougerolles’ Fete des Cerises.
Their cherry fete is held on the first Saturday and Sunday in July.
The Fougerolles cherry fete has been held annually for 50 years-old and is organized by interested parties from the town. At the fete you may taste enough different kirsch products to make you aware of the different tastes from different producers. Involved in promoting the Fougerolles’ Kirsch is La Confrérie des Gousteurs de Kirsch de Fougerolles, the brother and sisterhood of the lovers of the taste of the Kirsch from Fougerolles. This brother and sisterhood work all year to promote and taste varieties of their true love; then at the fete they provide kirsch tastings and donuts. Woe to those who do not dip their donuts deeply enough in the local brew.

Some members of the Kirsch brother and sisterhood;
Here in their would-be ancient costumes.
Fougerolles may be famous for their Kirsch but the title of the sweet cherry capital of France is claimed by Céret in the South of France, nearly in Spain, and that is part of a separate post mostly on sweet cherries.
Morello and similar sour cherries in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan - guinder) (Dutch - zure kers), (German - sauerkirsche or weichsel ), (Italian - amareno), (Spanish  -  guindo, cerezo de Morello), (Latin - prunus cerasus).
Sweet Cherries in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan – cirerer or guinda,),(Dutch - kers  or kriek), (German - kirsche),(Italian – ciliegia), (Spanish – cereza).(Latin - prunus avium)
With thanks to Wikipedia for assistance with some of the translations above.

Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2015.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman


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