A Feast from Franconia

Peter Morrell enjoys the food, wine and beer from this culturally rich part of southern Germany

For those who don’t know, Franconia is in the southern part of Germany, north of Bavaria. The region has a rich culinary heritage and also a fascinating cultural history. Many towns and cities have strong connections with Martin Luther, who nearly 500 years ago created a schism in Western Christianity when he wrote his Ninety-Five Theses. Their content, which questioned the sale of ‘indulgences’ or mitigation of sins, triggered the Reformation and the subsequent spread of Protestantism throughout Europe.

There is also a very strong connection to the region with the history of Great Britain. One of Franconia’s most historic towns is Coburg and the nearby Callenberg Castle is the residence of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. One of the family’s sons, Albert, became Prince Consort to Queen Victoria when they married in 1840 and Victoria always referred to Coburg as her second home. Also nearby is Veste Coberg castle, once home to Luther and now a museum of Saxe-Coberg artifacts.

Next year sees the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot, the beer purity laws which originated in southern Germany. This strict definition of what ingredients were allowed during the brewing process was probably one of the world’s first food consumer safety laws. So when I recently spent an evening with a number of people from Franconia to explore the region’s culinary heritage tasting the beer was one of the key features.

The evening started with a welcome glass of sparkling, the Juventa Secco, it was fresh and fruity with a good, clean finish and made an excellent aperitif. All the wines served during the evening were from Franconia and primarily were made from local grape varieties. The menu for the event had been planned by chef Markus Fiedler who with his wife Carmen run the hotel/restaurant Landgasthof Fiedler in Dietersheim. One of Carmen’s roles is that of beer sommelier so I started the exploration of the ‘Home of Beer’ with a tutored tasting

First was the Bioland Classic Export from the Weissenohe monastery, this showed a good hoppy taste with a spicy background. Next was a very refreshing summer wheat beer with pleasant floral notes, the Karpfen Weisse from the Löwenbräu brewery in Adelsdorf. The next two beers were both great discoveries, a hazelnut flavoured brown ale brewed by David Hertl in Schlüsselfeld and a rather remarkable smoked beer from the Kundmuller brewery. They both had real character and great depth of flavour.

It was time to sample the menu that Markus had devised, I started with the cream of hop sprout soup. The sprouts billed as ‘the world’s most expensive vegetable’ are close to the taste of asparagus but also have a whole range of other hedgerow flavours, for me a brand new and enjoyable experience. My beer match with this was the Zwickelbier from the Friedel brewery, it had a malty nose and revealed good bitter hops on the palate. Next up was a spicy lamb sausages with red wine shallots, the lamb was juicy and meaty with a good texture, the ideal drink with this was the Juventa Cuvee red 2014, a light fruity wine.

Carp is a speciality of the region and this was the foundation of the next dish, cut into goujons it was wrapped in a roulade of mangold leaves (Swiss chard) and boiled for just a few minutes, then served in a beetroot foam, the result was a range of delicious contrasting tastes. The wine pairing with this was the Divino Pinot Blanc 2013, light and delicate on the palate it had a crisp finish. The potato and porcini mushroom patty which followed was an inventive dish. Dipped in egg and then coated with brewing malt before being fried, it was crunchy, then floury with an earthy centre. The aromatic Divino Pinot Gris was a good accompaniment.

The finale for the main courses was veal cheek braised in Franconian red wine for six hours. Served on a bed of Savoy cabbage it offered profound and satisfying flavours. This wine to drink with this needed to hold its own which the Divino Frühburgunder did with ease. Its 36 months in oak barrels had given it strong dark red fruit in the bouquet which evolved into vanilla and spice in the mouth and left a long finish.

The meal finished with two desserts, Obatzda, Bavarian cheese spread for those who prefer a savoury taste and for the sweet toothed ‘Bieramisu’ with a plum compote. The final drink match was the intriguing Grandma Edeltraud’s Kriek by David Hertl, a beer made with sour cherries was a perfect foil for both the richness of the cheese and the sweetness of the tiramisu.

The evening was almost over but a line-up of flavoured schnapps kept me and my fellow guests lingering. We were introduced to the flavours which including plum, pear, sloe and hazelnut by expert Martha Gehring. All the varieties were intense and delicious, a lovely finish to the evening

This had been an excellent showcase of an area which is relatively unknown to the British traveller. There are direct flight into Nuremberg, which is just gearing up for its world famous Christmas market. You may want to visit this traditional market, go next year to visit the 300+ breweries and celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot or in 2017 make a pilgrimage to where the Reformation started. Whenever or wherever you go you can be assured of memorable culinary and cultural experiences and a very warm welcome from the residents

To find out more about Franconia go to www.frankentourismus.com

For more about visiting Germany go to www.germany.travel