Eat your greens: Tour deep into fermented cabbage country

COLMAR, France (AP) — There are two types of French people: Those who relish the savoury-sweet tang of choucroute and those immune to the charms of the shredded and fermented chewy cabbage.

But there’s no arguing about the place of choucroute, a signature dish of the Alsace region visited on Wednesday by the Tour de France, in the pantheon of classic French meals.

Three-time world champion Peter Sagan nailed the sprint finish to win on Wednesday’s Stage 5 to the Alsace city of Colmar, close to France’s eastern border with Germany. To the delight of home fans, French rider Julian Alaphilippe rode strongly to stay in the overall lead of the Tour and its iconic yellow jersey.

As ubiquitous as baked beans in the Anglo-Saxon world and found in every French supermarket, choucroute has been eaten by families in Alsace, with thick forests, rich agriculture and a famous cycling climb up the Ballon d’Alsace mountain, since at least the 15th Century.

Naturally fermented in salted water without the addition of yeast, the preserved cabbage provided a supply of vitamins and roughage during the long, arduous winter months in Alsace.

Slovakia’s Peter Sagan wearing the best sprinter’s green jersey celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the fifth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 175.5 kilometrws which start in Saint-Die-Des-Vosges and finish in Colmar, a place famous for choucroute, a signature dish of the Alsace region. – AP

“Now, we have pills, but back in the day people ate fermented heart of cabbage to have enough vitamins in winter,” said President of the Association for the Appreciation of Alsace Choucroute Sebastien Muller, an industry group.

On the plate, choucroute looks a little like spaghetti. Once heated with a little fat, fried onion, a splash of chicken stock, and whole juniper berries for a woody flavour, the cabbage is most often garnished with buttered boiled potatoes, juicy hunks of smoked meat and smoked sausages.

Choucroute eaten soon after the cabbage harvest in August, fermented for just two weeks, will be delicate in flavour. But a July choucroute, fermented for months since the previous year’s harvest, will have a more acidic bite. Muller suggests rinsing the cabbage in water if it’s too tangy.

A good choucroute is measured by the length of the cabbage shreds, their whiteness, firmness and slight acidity, Muller said.

“It’s a vegetable that has crossed the centuries,” he said.