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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Rhum- Rum. France’s Rum Agricole Martinique AOC. Rum in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Rum on the rocks.

In every French chef’s storeroom, there are two or three different types of rum; one of them will always be France’s Rhum Agricole Martinique.AOC/AOP.   Rum will be there with AOC Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados. These four AOC/AOP 40% alcohols are behind many of France’s most famous dishes.
Before rum there was sugarcane, and before the import of sugar from sugarcane anything in Europe that was sweetened was sweetened with honey. In 1492 Columbus discovered South America and by 1505 Portugal began sugarcane plantations in Brazil.  Shortly thereafter Spain started their sugarcane plantations in Cuba with rum following on.  When Spain and France were at peace France had regular deliveries of sugar and rum; however, during their frequent wars, France’s supplies came from captured Spanish and Portuguese ships arriving from the New World. Sugar was worth as much as silver and only enough sugar reached France to satisfy the very wealthy.  

France begins cultivating its own plantations.

At the end of the seven years’ war in 1763, France gave England her North American possessions in return for the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique (and Saint Lucia) along with other possessions. France began her own sugarcane plantations and soon after rum production was in full swing.  At that time, all rums were made from molasses, a brown treacle left over from the sugar production process. The plantation system was behind much of France’s terrible attachment to slavery and while the French revolution was supposed to end slavery in 1794 Napoleon I in 1802 allowed it to continue. French laws ending slavery finally came into force in 1848.

Sugar cane in a plantation.
Rum on French menus:
Baba au Rhum Généreux –Avec sa Bouteille de Rhum sur la Table Pour l'Imbiber sur Mesure - A generous serving of rum baba with the bottle placed on the table for the diner to soak the baba according to taste.  Rum baba is one of France’s most famous desserts and indeed, the most famous dessert made with rum. Rum baba comes with a long and well-documented history.
Crêpes au Chèvre Fraise au Rhum – Thin pancakes, crepes, served with fresh goat’s cheese and flavored with rum.
Filet Mignon de Porc Flambé au Rhum A filet mignon, tenderloin, fillet of pork flambéed in rum. In French cuisine, the term filet mignon does not refer to a beef tenderloin, the beef filet, but rather to the narrow, almost pointed, end of the beef tenderloin.  If a filet mignon is on a French menu it is a pork tenderloin unless otherwise noted.
Pavé de Saumon Grillé (+/-230g) Flambé au Rhum, Sauce Antillaise (Crème Fraîche, Ail et Ananas), Achards de Légumes, Riz Long Thaï Parfumé au Jasmin – A thick cut of grilled Atlantic salmon (approximately 230 grams) flambéed in rum and served with a Sauce Antillaise (made with crème fraîche, garlic and pineapple)  and “archard” vegetables, with long-grain Thai rice scented with jasmine.  There is no single recipe for Sauce Antillaise, so most menu listings, like this one, will include some detail. (The Antilles Françaises, the French Antilles are France’s Caribbean departments and dependencies which include the departments of Guadaloupe and Martinique and the dependencies of Saint Barthélemy and Saint Martine). Achards de légumes are a French-Creole dish from the Indian Ocean island of Réunion; it is a mixture of lightly fried vegetables cut into thin strips and flavored with ginger, garlic, turmeric, and vinegar. Here the dish is served with the long-grained Thai rice of which some sought-after varieties have a natural jasmine scent.

Sorbet Ananas, Vanille et Granité au Rhum – A pineapple sorbet flavored with vanilla and served with a rum granité. Granité is the French version of the Italian Granita which began as sugar, fruit, and water served with crushed ice, (it is often called sludge in the UK and the USA). Now French granités have gone upmarket and will include sweet wines, rums, and brandies.
The addition of Chantilly cream to a Rum Baba makes a Savarin au Rum.
 The Savarin is named after Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, (1755 – 1826), 
the first philosopher of food.  
Tartare de Fruits Aromatisé au Rhum et à la Vanille de Madagascar- A fruit Tatar flavored with rum and vanilla from Madagascar.

Rum and coke.
The British Navy changes the daily ration
of French brandy for rum.
Rum was popular everywhere, but in the 1600s and the early 1700’s the British Navy traditionally gave its sailors a daily ration of French brandy; that, despite France and England being at war through the 1600s. In the 1700s the British Navy finally said no to French brandy, and the British Navy sailors received rum from British Caribean possessions. (I think the British still allowed their officers to drink French brandy. Since, when Admiral Nelson was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1802 his body was sent home for burial preserved in a cask of brandy). Britain formally ended the tradition of a daily tot of rum in 2007.
The different French rums.

There are many excellent rums produced in all of France’s island departments and dependencies as well as in French Guiana. They include dark rums which get their color from caramelized sugar or molasses. The darkest rums are generally based on molasses and aged in heavily charred barrels that give them much stronger flavors than the darkest Rhum Agricole made directly from sugarcane.

Nevertheless, in the 1900’s nothing except the producer's credentials guaranteed the age and how a rum was produced. An amber or dark rum from one producer can taste very different to that of another. Today’s French rums are made from molasses or sugarcane juice, with only Martinique’s AOC Rhum Agricole legally limited to sugar cane juice. For other rums, the reputation of the producer and the language on the label is the only guarantee of the method of production and the rum’s age.

The introduction of factories that produced sugar from sugar beets closed hundreds of sugarcane plantations.
When France began making sugar from sugar beet on the mainland France’s Caribbean sugar plantations lost their primary market. The plantations which fought off closure began to make rum directly from cane juice of which they had plenty. That started the argument over which was better rum from sugarcane juice or rum from molasses?
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were still hundreds of rum distillers with a huge variety of names, colors and alcohol levels in their products.  Unless the background of the producer was known there was little to differentiate the product from bottle to bottle with many using generic names like Captain’s rum or similar.  In the 20th century with so much sugar being made from sugar beets the world prices for sugar went down and down, and more and more sugarcane plantations closed.  With so many plantations closed the lack of sufficient molasses for rum production for many distilleries was a real rum do.  (I apologize, but I couldn't help myself). To continue production many Caribean distilleries have begun to import molasses from China and elsewhere.
The only AOC rum is Rhum Agricole Martinique.

Only France’s islands made enough rum at competitive prices to keep their sugarcane plantations open, but there were still hundreds of different labels and no control. In 1996 France issued regulations for Martinique’s Rum Agricole AOC that only permitted rum made directly from sugarcane from the island of Martinique. In 2004 Martinique’s Rum Agricole received its Pan-European AOP.  (France INAO office is the trusted controller and enforcer of all AOC, AOP, and Label Rouge quality standards). Martinique’s AOC rum can only be made with the sugarcane juice distilled within 48 hours of harvest.  The initials and names used to show the age of the rum are very similar to those used for AOC Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados.

4 AOC Rum Agricole Martinique producers and products.
The name and ages of Rhum Agricole Martinique AOC:

Rhum Agricole Martinique Vieux– A minimum of two years in oak barrels.
Rhum Agricole Martinique Très Vieux, Réserve Spéciale, Cuvée Spéciale or  VSOP – Aged for at least  four years.
Rhum Agricole Martinique Extra Vieux, Grande Réserve, Hors d’Age,  XO  - Aged for more than six years.
Older Martinique Rhum Agricole is produced by some of the AOC producers, and they have added their own labels for 10 year, 15 year and older rums.
Other French rums have a variety of labels which include the words traditional, planter's choice, navy rum, Caribbean rum, and more.  But only rums with a Martinique AOC  have AOC on the label. .AOC stands for Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée. In English that is the Controlled Mark of Origin. 
Ti – Punch.
When dining in any of France’s islands or in a French mainland restaurant serving French-Créole Antillaise Cuisine a Ti-Punch will be the cocktail of choice at the bar or on the menu.  A Ti-Punch began as a rum and lime cocktail drunk at celebrations; now it is served whenever a rum cocktail is called for and its recipe may change slightly with the location.

The English language website of Martinique is

The English language website for Rum Agricole Martinique is:

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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu.
Copyright 2010, 2018.

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