Have You Ever Tasted Federweisser?

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Have You Ever Tasted Federweisser?

Federweisser is not one of the ever newly-emerging, unpronounceable varietals like Frühroter Veltliner, Kerner, Scheurebe, Pascal Blanc, Gropello, Primitivo, or Auxerrois Blanc.

It is a beverage rich in history and is made of freshly fermenting grape juice from just-pressed grapes that you can drink during all the stages of fermentation. If you like it sweet, then drink it just as the fermentation starts; if you like it dry, drink it at a stage where the fermentation is coming close to the end. This choice also effects alcohol percentage. When fermentation is only at the beginning, the alcohol level is accordingly very low (around 3 - 5% by volume). As the sugar is further fermented into alcohol the volume % can go as high as 13%.

When yeast ferments, (let’s thank God that he gave us yeast!) it converts sugar into alcohol and produces a lot of carbon dioxide while doing it. The fizziness gives this drink a great kick and provides a lot of sparkle. Today one can get fizzy soft drinks (or sparkling wine, Proseco, and Champagne) at every corner, but can you imagine the tickle this product gave long before modern technology could harness this fizziness for everyday enjoyment?

Further what makes this drink so unique and also gives it one of its names (Federweisser = feather white) is that there are billions and billions of floating yeast cells. The energy that comes from this amazing natural process of ever more and more splitting yeast cells is astonishing. It also gives the beverage a very hazy and murky looking appearance - which may be one of the reasons why it has never become popular in the USA.

Federweisser is known by other names such as Sauser (little sweet one), Neuer Sauser (new sweet one), Jung Wein (young wine), Sturm (storm), Bremser (breaker), and in France it is called Bourru or Vernache.

In any case, the combination of the flavors, the sensations of the bubbles, and the well hidden alcohol is a recipe for a fun night. There’s also the added excitement that it’s the middle of harvest and this product can only be had for maybe 3 or 4 weeks while grapes are being picked, pressed and juice is fermented.

Traditionally, Federweisser is served in private cellars called Besenwirtschaft (see broom pub). As a vintner making wine in your cellar, when the Federweisser is ready, you would mount an old broom outside on the door or on the corner of your house and the neighborhood (or anyone who is passing by) knows that the brew is ready to be enjoyed.

But wait it gets better!

The food traditionally served with Federweisser is Zwiebelkuchen in Germany or Flamm Kuchen in Alsace. This is basically an onion tart or onion pie (the German version) or an onion pizza for the French version. Both are very aromatic and delicious and add greatly to the enjoyment (and to the digestion!) of your Federweisser. I have made both versions to see which would be preferred but no loser has been declared yet...only winners!

I have many fond memories of sitting in some old rustic cellar with good friends, drinking the new wine, joking, singing songs, eating crisp, hot corners of onion cake, flirting with the server (usually the daughter of the Vintner), and not having a care in the world. Whenever I serve it now those memories come flooding back and it is wonderful.

So try it and see if you can get your hands on some fresh fermenting juice and let yourself be transferred to another world.

Recipes:

German Zwiebelkuchen (Onion Pie)

makes 10 - 12 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 pounds onions, sliced
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 8 ounce sour cream
  • 8 ounce heavy cream
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seed (optional)
  • Pastry for a 9 inch single crust pie or 1 large pizza dough

Directions

Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a jelly-roll pan or large pizza pan with prepared dough, making sure dough extends up sides of pan.

Sauté onion in a skillet until translucent and pour cooked onion into a large mixing bowl. Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until evenly brown. Drain, chop and add to onion; mix well.

Stir in sour and heavy cream. Beat eggs enough to break up yolks, then mix into pie mixture. Add flour to thicken mixture (onions will create a lot of water), then add salt. Mix well and pour mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle top with caraway seed.

Bake in preheated oven for about 1 hour, or until onions start to turn golden brown on top.

Alsatian Tarte Flambee (Traditional)

  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (3 ounces)
  • 1 cup creme fraiche
  • 6 ounces soft white cheese (fromage blanc)
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 pinches nutmeg
  • 3 ounces bacon, chopped
  • 1 large pizza dough

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Oil a 14 x 16 inch baking sheet. Roll the dough until slightly smaller than the baking sheet then place it on the sheet.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a nonstick skillet. Add the onion and cook, stirring, over low heat for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool.

Combine the crème fraiche, fromage blanc, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooled onion.

Heat the remaining oil in the skillet and fry the bacon until lightly browned, stirring constantly. Remove and drain through a strainer.

Spread the onion mixture over the dough, leaving a very small raised rim all the way around, then dot with the bacon.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tart is lightly browned.

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