What goes best with bubbly? Some pair it with Beluga caviar, others prefer foie gras or smoked salmon. But now the best accompaniment for fine champagne can be revealed after a lifetime’s work: the humble radish.
The discovery was unearthed by a renowned French chemist who spent half a century painstakingly researching which foods go best with different wines. Jacques Puisais, 93, has now convinced experts of the validity of his science, including Didier Depond, head of the venerable Delamotte champagne maker.
“Radishes and champagne are a perfect match,” Mr Depond said. He is so enamoured of the piquant, peppery bite of the radish when paired with the crispness of a dry fizz that he has taken to growing his own radishes. “They have all the virtues. They cost hardly anything and they don’t make you fat,” Mr Depond said during a recent virtual champagne tasting with 28 guests.
Connoisseurs have known for some time that the root vegetable makes an ideal accompaniment for champagne, but it took the coronavirus lockdown for the merits of the unlikely pairing to reach a wider public in France.
The pandemic robbed the champagne market of its sparkle, with sales sinking by up to 80 per cent as weddings and festive events were cancelled. Producers went online, organising virtual tastings and offering advice on serving temperatures and apéritif snacks.
Many people who took part in the pre-supper events to relax after a hard day working from home were astonished to be told to prepare radishes, which the French often eat with butter and salt, along with smoked salmon, ham, slices of Comté or a similar mild cheese.
“Radishes certainly became a talking-point,” Mr Depond said. “But when people try them, they realise immediately.”
Dr Puisais explained the science to the Daily Telegraph: “Radish gives you a stimulation that is similar to champagne. The piquant taste of the radish is recorded in your brain so that when you then take a sip of champagne, the champagne tastes less piquant and more fruity.”
Dr Puisais, who describes himself as a “taste philosopher”, holds a PhD in chemistry and headed a state analytical laboratory for many years.
“What I regret is that people serve any old thing with champagne,” he said. “Champagne is demanding. It cannot be paired with just anything.”
Dr Puisais, who founded the French Taste Institute in 1976 to research taste and food sensitivity, has an equally strong opinion about another long-standing champagne controversy: should it be served in flutes or a traditional broad-bowled, saucer-shaped champagne glass, a ‘coupe’.
“The ‘coupe’ is better than the flute,” he said. “Try it, if you don’t believe it affects the taste.”