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).