What is the difference between chouchen, cider, and calvados? We found out by visiting a traditional chouchen maker in Brittany, France.
Chouchen (pronounced Shou-shen) is a regional specialty of Brittany and is 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. Chouchen starts out like cider, however, after the apple juice has fermented, honey is added to boost the fermentation. The resulting beverage is more alcoholic than cider.
Chouchen doesn’t use sulfites to curb fermentation. I’m not exactly clear on his explanation as to why… 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 buckwheat flower honey. It is generally served chilled under a patio umbrella, but it would also be nice at the end of a richly flavored meal.
A tea cup of cider
While chouchen has fallen out of favor with the locals, cider is still the drink of choice in Brittany. Every restaurant and bar offers several different local ciders, which are all served in a teacup! This strange serving option is a holdover from when cider was homemade and unfiltered. Drinking it from a teacup meant that you wouldn’t notice all of the floating dead yeast in the bottom of the cup!
Jouny informed us that drinking homemade cider right from the barrel is traditional. Though the beverage would be flat and warm, he assured us that it was just the right temperature for proper enjoyment of the flavors. Perhaps something to try next time I brew cider!