Before you read this, you might want to mix yourself a drink:
Put a piece of lime zest and four thin strips of fresh ginger into a glass. Pour in 2cl of Cognac VSOP. Press lightly 2 to 3 times with the aid of a drumstick (I think my translation may leave something to be desired here, for those with better skills than the dictionary, the word was un pilon).
Half fill the glass with ice cubes, stir for 5 seconds with a spoon. Add another 2cl of Cognac. Add 6cl of lemonade and a piece of cucumber peel. Stir for 5 seconds and serve straightaway.
Now, I am not sure if that is a good use of Cognac or not, but it is the drink of the season from the Cognac trade association! And what an association it is, with some of the most famous names in the spirits trade involved! If you want to give the foodie in your life a trip to remember, without breaking the bank, then I suggest a long weekend in Cognac and working your way round a few of the houses.
Within easy reach from the UK with a number of the cheap airlines, you can fly into La Rochelle or Bordeaux and be in Cognac in a couple of hours if you rent a car. You can almost smell the Cognac in the air as soon as you arrive. As with whisky, they refer to the amount they lose into the atmosphere as the angels’ share.
My favourite tour, particularly with children, is Hennessy, if only because it involves a short boat trip from their modern looking HQ on the town side of the river to the warehouses on the other. There are tours in English, and you will need to book in advance. There are amazing barrels of Cognac from centuries and centuries ago, which you can only imagine how valuable they are, or what the flavours will be like.
Of course, the foodie will be interested in the whole process from start to finish, and also the many evolutions of design of bottles. The good news is there is a tasting at the end of it all! For the nominated driver, there is grape juice, for everyone else there is Cognac of varying qualities, depending on how expensive you wanted to make your trip. The basic trip ticket involves a very acceptable Cognac (this is Hennessy after all) but you can upgrade to something you may never get to buy a bottle of.
But don’t just go and do the visit and leave, as the town itself is glorious. If you fancy an overnight stay, then I would recommend the Hotel Heritage, and even if you’re not staying for the night then I would go for lunch. When the weather is great, then you sit outside on a very pretty courtyard, covered with wisteria, and needless to say have a very relaxed lunch. For little foodies, there is a children’s menu, but don’t go expecting the regular jambon frites option, more likely to be steak and chips.
The rooms are charming, warm and cosy, in feel rather than overbearing temperature, and the bar has a great choice of all drinks, not just Cognac. But as with most drinks, and food, there is something to be said about drinking Cognac in the town of which it bears the name, and generally just enjoying the whole atmosphere.
Cognac makes a great base for exploring the area, or just for a getaway with a difference. If you are flying back through La Rochelle, try and make time to visit the market, which is open every day except Sunday. It is exactly the kind of French food market every foodie dreams of, and is definitely worth the detour.
If you want more background knowledge on Cognac before you go then either check out the official Cognac site, or I enjoy the posts over on Bibendum.