Chouchen (pronounced Shou-shen) is a regional specialty of Brittany, and it is fairly unique to the area. It is a marrying of cider and mead into a new beverage that has a rather unique flavour. So while in Brittany I made it a priority to meet a traditional chouchen maker.
On a drive between St. Malo and Dinan I dropped in to visit Jouny Arnaud. Jouny was an amazing host. He plied us with glasses of his homemade organic apple juice (for the kids), and chouchen and cider (for the adults). He also gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of his facilities.
What is chouchen?
Though his cider and calvados were both delicious, it was his chouchen that I was most interested in. Apparently chouchen starts out like cider, however, after the apple juice has fermented, honey is added to boost the fermentation. The resulting beverage doesn’t use sulfites to cap the fermentation, and it is more alcoholic than cider.
— I’m not exactly clear on his explanation as to why it doesn’t require sulfites… my grade school French only goes so far. But his explanation had something to do with the temperature and speed of the ferment. I suspect that the alcohol levels might also be a factor. —
The chouchen that we sampled tasted like an earthy wine with a hint of apple. It was surprisingly dry for a beverage that is about 1/3 honey, and I believe that the earthiness comes from the use of buckwheat flower honey. It is generally served chilled under a patio umbrella, but it would also be nice served at the end of a richly flavoured meal.
A tea cup of cider
While chouchen has fallen out of favour with the locals, cider is still the drink of choice in Brittany. Every restaurant and bar offers a number of different varieties of cider, which are all served in a tea cup! Apparently, it is a hold over from when cider was homemade and unfiltered. Drinking it from a tea cup meant that you wouldn’t notice all of the floating remains of yeast and apple.
Jouny informed us that drinking homemade cider right from the barrel is the traditional way. Though the beverage would be flat and warm, he assured us that it was just the right temperature for proper enjoyment of the flavours. Perhaps something to try next time I brew my own cider!