Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Cognac and food matching

Harmonies heaven

Cognac is a greatly misunderstood spirit in most of the publics eyes, suffering a similar profile like Scotch whisky as it is an old man's drink that is only consumed after dinner by a fire place. Cognac Bureau, the official cognac body that is helping to promote cognac as a drink category has come up with some creative ideas on how to pair food with cognac, depending on the style and brand, cognac can work with all kinds of food but normally one with a more defined flavour and the temperature also plays an important role too, the very same cognac can taste totally different serving it ice cold, comparing to serving it in room temperatures. But first, lets take a look at how a cognac is made and what makes it special: 

Supper in a Pear Tree
Stichelton and cheddar, matched with VS cognac

All cognacs are done in a traditional double pot still method and aged in French oak casks before bottling to either VS (aged at least 2 years), VSOP (aged at least 4 years), XO (aged at least 6 years, soon to be 10), Extra (aged normally at least 20 years) or vintages (a single year vintage). Due to the limited time for the grape harvest and the very restricted rules and regulations, producing cognac is an expensive business, making a bottle of cognac can cost up to three times the cost of a bottle of a single malt Scotch whisky. 
Scottish lobster, samphire, tomato

The cognac producers can draw grapes from the six grape regions surrounding the town of Cognac which are 
divided by the official body, each region offers certain different styles of flavours and it is down to a Cognac cellar master to create the blends he/she requires from either mix & matches different regions of harvest or exclusive selecting a single region for bottling. For example, the Bois Ordinaries region's grapes can be very minerally as it is by the sea while Grande Champagne leading toward more of a spicy and powerful profile due to the chalk soil in that area.
fillet of beef, heritage carrot, rainbow chard,
salsa verde and horseradish creme fraiche

Cognac works extremely well in a cocktail, in fact, it is the one of the most popular choices of spirits for bartenders on the back of the rise of the cocktail culture in the post prohibition era. Sidecar (cognac, cointreau, lemon juice) is still one of the most consumed aperitifs these days while brandy Alexander ( cognac, cream, creme de cacao) is a popular choice for an after dinner treat. But beyond cocktails there are a variety of foods that match the flavour profiles to Cognac to really bring the dishes to life.

Tips from the pros 

  • Sugar combines naturally with Cognac. In the mouth, it produces a pleasant effect, softening the perception of the alcohol. 
  • Bitter foods can be a good match. It's best to use aged Cognac which has its own bitterness, resulting from ageing in oak casks. 
  • Salt and Cognac are old allies since both are flavour enhancers. 
  • Umami remains the universal favourite with Cognac. This fifth flavour is described as a sensation of a savoury taste. 
  • In moderate amounts, fats offer a pleasant combination with Cognac. 


Annabel Partridge (former sous chef at Skye Gyngell's Spring at the Somerset House) has come up with some truly inspired seasonal recipes to match cognac at her pop up restaurant "Supper in a Pear Tree" in The Lavender Hill studio in Battersea. Scottish lobster was paired with a Grande Champagne VS cognac (Frapin), the light fruity and mellow sweetness really brought out the freshness of the shellfish. Fillet of beef was matched with a Fine Champagne VSOP (Hine), the mild spiciness and floral aroma worked in harmony with the robust flavour of the beef and the coolness of the horseradish creme fraiche. Chocolate truffles were paired with a Grande Champagne XO cognac (Delamain Vesper), the intense taste profile of the XO is the perfect combination with rich dark chocolate: oily, waxy and bitter with a hint of smoky undertone.
Delamain Vesper

Recipes to try at home:

Roast langoustine and shitake

Roast langoustine is the perfect starter and pairs magnificently with Cognac XO. 
Preparation (to serve 2 people): Shell 4 large langoustines and discard the black vein. Toss them in 40 g of butter. Arrange the langoustines with green shiso or other salad leaves and a few slices of pink radishes. Sprinkle with dry brioche crumbs. Served with shiitake mushroom lightly grilled.

For more information about cognac, please visit:


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