Heaven… I’m in heaven,
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak.
And I seem to find the happiness I seek,
When we’re out together dining cheek to cheek.
These are the opening lines of Irving Berlin’s song “Cheek to Cheek” with one minor change. That is how I feel when I’m in Alsace, France. The region is known for being a tennis ball in the political boundaries of Europe. It has been French, then German, then French, then German and then French so often that the culture and cuisine is now Alsatian. A hybrid of these two great cuisines and we are better for it.
One of its many contributions to the culinary world is a dish I have written about before—Flammekueche or Tarte Flambe. This very Alsatian of foods is a most closely related to pizza but rather than a tomato base sauce its sauce is crème fraiche and cheese with bacon and onions on top of a paper thin crispy crust. We last enjoyed this when a group our our fellow tourists invaded a bistro in Strassbourg, France. I had talked up this creation and strongly suggested that everyone should try it as a true ‘slice of Alsace’.
The Bistro had several versions of it including the “classic” I described above but also some variations using local cheeses. One of these was Munster, a traditional Alsatian cheese from the nearby town of the same name. Munster cheese is available in most US grocery stores but there is something about eating a food at its place of origin that makes it special and [I would argue] taste better. It certainly has never tasted better to me than on that day.
I think all of my traveling companions agreed that Flammekueche lived up to their high expectation based upon what I had described and, to my delight, it’s availability is spreading across Europe. Don’t be too surprised when it becomes more mainstream in the US (as, for example, Caesar Salad) . It will make it here at some point, in fact, maybe I should start a chain of Flamekueche Restaurants.
For me, Culinary Heaven is located in two places—The Amana Colonies with our blend of Germanic and American foods and Alsace with its blend of French and German foods.