Wine matching: Chicons Flamands

Les Abilles BlancVignoble Peyroli 2012Champ Divin 10 Pollux


There are three different coloured chicory; red, green and white. The white variety is forced in dark cellars or under a dark barrel, a practice that originated in France in the 17th century and was taken up in Belgium around 1850 where the plant was known as witloof meaning white leaf. For this recipe you can use any of the three varieties, all are equally delicious.

Chicory is most valued as a salad leaf, adding a hint of bitterness to a dish, but they are equally delicious braised and then cooked wrapped in ham, covered with a cheese sauce and baked. Depending on where you are in France you will find this dish on menus under different names. In the north of France and in Belgium it is called Chicons Flamands whilst more commonly in other regions it is known as endives au jambon sauce mornay.

Serves: 4

50 g butter
8 small heads chicory
juice of half a lemon
8 slices jambon
200 ml single cream
a little freshly grated nutmeg
100 g Comté, grated
25 g Parmesan, grated
25 g dried breadcrumbs
salt and pepper

little gems, halved
oil and lemon juice

Preheat the oven 190c. Melt the butter in a flameproof casserole and add the chicory and cook over a medium heat for 5-6 minutes until browned all over. Add a splash of cold water, the lemon juice and salt and pepper, cover the dish with a lid or tin foil and transfer to the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes until the chicory are tender.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for about 10 minutes, then wrap each chicory with a slice of the ham and return to the dish. Combine the cream, nutmeg and Comté and pour over the chicory. Scatter over the Parmesan and breadcrumbs and bake for 15 minutes until bubbling and golden. Serve with the little gems dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

The wines

Jean-Luc Colombo ‘Les Abeilles’ Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc 2013 (£10.49,

Bitter chicory isn’t the most wine-friendly of foods, but the principal ingredient of a recipe isn’t always the most prominent flavour. Don’t forget to consider any sauces when choosing a wine to match a dish – in this case a cheese sauce. The tannins in red wine don’t always get along with melted cheese, so a rich, medium to full-bodied white would be a better option.

Rhône supremo Jean-Luc Colombo makes some great value wines and this blend of local Roussanne and Clairette grapes is no exception. Roussanne delivers pear and honeysuckle aromas whereas Clairette adds body and weight. Though fresh and floral on the nose, it has enough richness to work with the cheese and ham in the dish.

Mas La Chevalière ‘Vignoble Peyroli’ Chardonnay 2012 (£12.99, Majestic)

A degree of acidity in the wine would be welcome to provide some contrasting freshness, but avoid anything too zesty or overtly fruity like Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling. If the wine has spent some time in oak that’s a bonus, as it can add body and some toasty notes that would chime with croutons and the subtle spice in the sauce.

The Languedoc isn’t always the most fulfilling region to explore when looking for good Chardonnay – often it’s simply too hot there for this variety. This wine is an exception however. A side project of the Chablis house Laroche, this vineyard is planted at high altitude, which gives the wine freshness and a fine beam of acidity. A light touch of oak provides richness without concealing the flavour of the fruit.

Champ Divin ‘Pollux’ Côtes du Jura 2010 (£17.20, Tanners)

Cheese is so diverse it’s important to match the right style of wine to the specific cheese you’re eating. The main type in the dish is Comté, from Franche-Comté in eastern France, and it pairs well with local Jura wines. Many of their best whites have an oxidative, sherry-like tang that work like a dream; the older the cheese, the more oxidative and intense you can go with the wine.

Champ Divin are a small biodynamic producer in Jura and Pollux is their blend of hand-harvested Chardonnay and Savagnin grapes. It’s a fresh, almost saline wine that bursts with intense walnut, mushroom and beeswax flavour that would be a memorable choice, particularly with a flavoursome two-year-old Comté in the sauce.

Recipe based on a version by Louise Pickford. First published in Living France magazine.