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Domaine Kox resurrects verjuice

Domaine Laurent & Rita Kox in Remich has resurrected a long-forgotten grapevine product: verjuice. This acidic juice produced from very early-harvested grapes is fruity but not sweet, and is used in cooking. A number of chefs are among the early adopters.

Although verjuice is rarely used nowadays, the condiment was once added to numerous recipes. As its name suggests, it is a type of juice made with green grapes from unripened clusters harvested at the start of veraison. At this stage, the berries are the size of peas and have virtually no sweetness. Their juice is acidic as one would expect, but also fruity. Verjuice is an unfermented product that is sweeter and rounder than vinegar, with milder and subtler aromas than lemon.

In recent years, several wine-growing regions have rediscovered it. These include Périgord, Bordeaux, and in particular, Austria, where a diverse range of verjuices are available running the whole gamut from sweet to sour. In Luxembourg, it was Corinne Kox, daughter of Laurent and Rita, who had the brainwave of reviving production of this forgotten ingredient. She launched her initial batch this autumn. “We harvested selected vines on 5 August,” she explains. “This wasn’t green harvesting to thin out the vines in preparation for a traditional harvest – we picked all the clusters to make verjuice.”

Cabernet Blanc and Pinotin were the main grape varieties used, along with a small proportion of Auxerrois. “Cabernet Blanc and Pinotin are hybrid grape varieties requiring virtually no phytosanitary treatments. Since verjuice is unfermented, it’s important for the basic ingredients to be as healthy as possible. These vines have only been treated once just after flowering (editor’s note – late May to early June) and there is no chemical residue on the grapes when they are harvested.”

Once harvested, the grapes are washed and then placed in a pneumatic press. The juice from each grape variety is then added to small stainless-steel tanks where it is cooled and allowed to settle just like wine. The most balanced blend of grape varieties was determined based on multiple tastings. Once it was ready, the verjuice crossed the Moselle to undergo gentle pasteurisation in Germany. “We’ve produced it in the most natural way possible,” emphasises Corinne Kox. That means that each bottle contains grape juice and nothing else.

In terms of its practical uses, verjuice provides an alternative to lemon and vinegar. Among the many options available, it can be used for refining soups, sauces or stews, deglazing risottos, or marinating fruit and vegetables. You can also drink it. While Rita Kox enjoys drinking it neat, it’s also very nice mixed with sparkling water. In the latest issue of the Culinaire Saisonnier magazine (a top fine dining publication), mixologist Matthieu Chaumont recommends adding a few drops of verjuice and an ice cube to a class of mead … although you could always replace this with Luxembourgish Hunnegdrëpp for a 100% lëtzebuesch combination!

Julien Lucas, head chef at Villa de Camille et Julien in Pulvermühl (Luxembourg City) is a verjuice enthusiast and already uses it in his cooking. “Lemon is very harsh while verjuice is much more subtle,” he explains. “I really like this product as it opens new doors and encourages innovation.” The young chef who previously ran the kitchen of the Auberge du Jeu de Paume in Chantilly (near Paris, one Michelin star) gives it pride of place in a recipe intended as a homage to the Moselle: pike in verjuice (see below).

Pike in verjuice, a recipe by chef Julien Lucas

Starter for 4 people

Ingredients:

• 4 x 40g portions of pike fillet
• 20cl of Kox verjuice
• 50g caster sugar
• 14g table salt
• 8 gelatin sheets

The recipe

• Roll the pike fillet portions in cling film and immerse in water at 60 degrees for 30 minutes.
• Heat the verjuice, then add the sugar and salt.
• Soak the gelatin sheets in cold water then add them to the hot verjuice.
• Place the pike fillets at the bottom of previously selected moulds, then pour in the verjuice when just lukewarm.
• Keep in the fridge for a night then remove from the moulds and place on a white plate.

There's beer too!

While the lockdown in March came as a shock to everyone, it proved particularly bad timing for Domaine Kox, which launched its first grape ale in partnership with the Simon brewery in Wiltz virtually the same day. “It wasn’t ideal,” smiles Corinne Kox. “But ultimately, we can’t complain as we sold out after just a few weeks!”  Although this initial batch was admittedly relatively small, neither the winemaker nor the brewery’s managing director, Betty Fontaine, expected it to be so successful, “especially without any advertising campaign whatsoever!” 

The mild spring weather combined with people’s excitement at discovering a new local product in a general climate that was sluggish to say the least, no doubt made all the difference. This sweet, fruity beer made with Rivaner must is actually very refreshing. And the good news for those who missed the first batch is that there’s more to come this autumn!

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