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How to pair cognac with food

How to pair cognac with food

by Great British Chefs 23 October 2019

The complex flavour of cognac means it’s far more than something to sip on after a meal. We take a look at how the spirit matches beautifully with both sweet and savoury dishes, shining a light on five award-winning desserts from top chefs specifically created to be enjoyed with Rémy Martin XO.

Food and drink pairings almost always focus on how the complexity and different flavours in wine can complement – and even improve – the taste of a particular dish. Top restaurants employ sommeliers whose sole job is to know which wines work with which plates of food. However, there are so many other drinks that can be paired with a wide range of dishes. Beer, spirits, cocktails, cider and mead have been steadily gaining ground on wine’s food-matching monopoly, but there's one tipple in particular that's quickly becoming a favourite. If you’re after a drink that boasts all the complexity and terroir of wine, look no further than cognac – a very special and protected brandy from western France.

If you’re unfamiliar with cognac it’s simplest to think of it as a distilled wine, but take a look at our introduction to cognac for a better understanding of what makes it so special here. Fiercely protected, it can only be made in a certain region of France to time-honoured methods, aged for at least two years in oak barrels after being distilled. The result is an amber-hued liquid which is warming, sweet, spicy and bursting with subtle, complex flavours. It’s the nuanced and myriad notes found within each sip that makes it so suited to pairing with food – perhaps something not many of us think of when it comes to stronger, distilled spirits.

While cognac is shaking off its old stereotype of being something to drink in an armchair in front of a roaring fire, it still has its place as an after-dinner drink. But rather than serving it on its own, more and more of us – both in restaurants and at home – are serving it with dessert or cheese courses. Cognac’s ability to pair with both salty and sweet flavours means it’s far more versatile than most of us give it credit for; as a very general overview, the spirit can cut through fatty savoury foods like charcuterie and cheese and complement the sweetness of desserts and chocolate – but go beyond the basics and you'll find it works with so much more.

Of course, not all cognacs taste the same, and different styles (VS, VSOP, XO and vintage) will be better suited to certain pairings – just like wine. No other cognac house puts as much emphasis on food pairing as Rémy Martin, which produces cognacs made exclusively with eaux-de-vie from the Grande and Petite Champagne areas of the Cognac region (the areas regarded as the epicentre of cognac production). That’s why in April 2019 the company challenged the UK’s top pastry chefs and sommeliers to create desserts specifically designed to be paired with its Rémy Martin XO.

This unique competition – named #RemySprint – resulted in five truly astounding desserts, all of which are now available to try in their respective restaurants until Christmas (with a glass of Rémy Martin XO served alongside, of course). The winners were:

Scott Goss and James Harrison at Verdigris, Kent, with ‘Walk Through The Kentish Countryside’ (elderflower, wood sorrel and tayberry sorbet with a white chocolate and pea truffle and an elderflower tempura). In the restaurant, the sorbet, truffle and tempura will change with the seasons to reflect what's available in the Kentish countryside throughout the year
Aurel Istrate and Romina Vasquez at The Connaught, London, with ‘Dessert Trio’ (dark chocolate ganache, malt mousse, coffee ice cream and sour cherry)
Solene Bonhumeau and Loic Pellegry at The Five Fields, London, with ‘Chocolate & Cognac’ (chocolate, hazelnuts and coffee)
Enzo Housseau and Hugo Danjou at Mere, London, with ‘Mere Martin’ (gianduja feuilletine, hazelnut dacquoise, grapefruit and earl grey ice cream)
Sarah Riddle and Marie Launey at Sketch, London, with ‘The Operatic’ (hazelnut sponge with caramel sauce, topped with three layers of Parmesan, chocolate and sugar tuiles)
All five desserts are now being served with a glass of Rémy Martin XO in their respective restaurants until Christmas

These desserts show just how many flavours Rémy Martin XO works with – chocolate, coffee, nuts, Parmesan, grapefruit, cherry and elderflower, just to name a few. There’s no need to stop at desserts, cheese and charcuterie, however – the spirit works surprisingly well with seafood, for example (scallops and lobster in particular), and can stand up to bold ingredients such as duck, wild mushrooms and pork belly.

While it doesn’t look like wine is going to be knocked off the top spot in the food matching rankings anytime soon, we’re beginning to understand how much other tipples have to offer. Cognac is a fantastic drink served neat, over ice or as part of a cocktail, but it can also cut through the fattiness of salami, complement the creaminess of cheese, bring out the delicate flavours of seafood and pair with a wide range of desserts. Next time you’re entertaining, try serving glasses of cognac with your food and see how it matches up – you might be surprised at just how well they go together.

The winning desserts in the #RemySprint competition can now be tasted at their respective restaurants – along with a glass of Rémy Martin XO – until Christmas.

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