Cabbage—and that's it!
Often confused with its "garnished" counterpart (see below), sauerkraut refers only to fermented cabbage served cooked with meat or fish, or even raw in a salad. Its name comes from the Alsatian word sürkrüt, which means "sour cabbage." To make this distinctly Alsatian dish, the cabbage—preferably the Alsatian quintal, to observe tradition—is sliced into thin strips and then placed in a fermentation vat with salt from two weeks up to two months. That's it!
A 100% Alsatian choucroute
After 20 years, Alsace sauerkraut has finally obtained the European PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) certification label in the summer of 2018. This certification guarantees the origin of the product as well as its production method and the know-how of the producers, from the cabbage producer to the manufacturer. The characteristics of Alsace sauerkraut include a slightly sour taste, a white to light yellow color, long and thin strips and a firm texture. PGI translates into a yellow and blue sticker affixed to the products, certifying its Alsatian origin: a good criterion to find your bearings and choose a 100% Alsatian product.
Meat or fish?
In Alsace, choucroute is eaten with a garnish, i.e. cooked with a side dish. Meat and charcuterie lovers will enjoy Strasbourg and Montbéliard sausages, bacon or ham, as well as potatoes alongside Alsatian sauerkraut. A second school of thought combines it with freshwater fish (Alsatian, of course!), thus turning it into a choucroute garnished with the sea. Sauerkraut goes very well with Alsatian wines, such as Riesling or Sylvaner, as well as with regional lagers.
Don't be a cabbage head!
The self-proclaimed capital of sauerkraut is located in Krautergersheim—kraut means "cabbage" in Alemannic—in the foothills of the Vosges, south of Strasbourg. In this small village, where cabbage is a centuries-old tradition, choucroute is celebrated every year during a festive weekend in late September. There, you can enjoy sauerkraut made by local cooks, attend a demonstration of cabbage cuts, and wander from one stall to the next in the streets of the village.
Krautergersheim, the capital of sauerkraut
Not just a part of the culinary heritage of France, choucroute has also entered the French language. Maybe you've already heard the French expression, pédaler dans la choucroute ("going around in circles")? This idiom originates from the sweeper car of the Tour de France caravan and its ads for the Alsatian speciality, suggesting that you're exerting yourself without moving forward. The French expression, aucun rapport avec la choucroute (the equivalent to "what's that have to do with the price of tea (in China)?") is also used to introduce a subject that has nothing to do with the current conversation.
For more information:
• Plan your trip to Alsace
• Also read: 4 new restaurants to enjoy the region of Alsace and 5 minutes to know everything about the vineyards of Alsace