Champagne typically pairs with indulgent foods like oysters, cheese or chocolate. But Krug is pushing a new coupling: bubbly and the humble pepper.
It’s an unlikely marriage, but the 176-year-old champagne house collaborated with foodie mecca Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, to play matchmaker. The result is a match made in heaven: both pepper and champagne star in rustic-chic alfresco dinners in the Smoky Mountains and a foliage-covered Krug garden bar this month.
The featured fruit is the latest in Krug’s single-ingredient program, which celebrates the journey of a different ingredient each year from seed to plate and its parallels to the champagne-making process.
Krug launched the initiative in 2015 and spotlighted things like mushrooms and eggs. This year, it took root in the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel’s garden, where master gardener John Coykendall and his team planted seven pepper varieties, including chile de agua, hailing from Oaxaca, Mexico, which packs the heat of a jalapeño but delivers more flavor; sarit gat, whose slender yellow pods resemble cayenne and are native to Kosovo; and Doe Hill, sweet yellow-orange knobs from Virginia.
Steps from the pepper plot sits an Instagram-worthy pop-up bar made of a large cedar slab and branches as well as hanging plants. The bar will pour flutes of Krug daily through August. Savor crisp bubbles while wandering through the bucolic five-acre garden, smelling the honeysuckle and wild roses and hearing the yaps of the property’s truffle dogs and chirps from birds flitting about. The surrounding scenery is enchanting, but the mouthwatering, farm-fresh gourmet food is the real draw to this rural retreat about 30 miles south of Knoxville.
Tucked under a canopy of tree leaves close to the bar, a wooden picnic table hosts peppery weekly garden dinners. James Beard-nominated executive chef Cassidee Dabney devised different ways to incorporate capsicum into dishes: a dose of pepper injected pep into the beet green pesto of the roasted beets and burrata appetizer, which complemented the light Krug Grande Cuvée 162nd Edition. Thin strips of succulent pork shoulder with yogurt and chili oil matched the depth of the brooding 160th Edition.
Dabney also played with grits. She topped the sweet, creamy Southern staple with crispy hominy, a sprinkle of fennel pollen, pickled lunch box and sweet peppers and green tomato. Surprisingly, the richly satisfying plate did not overpower the 167th Edition — the comfort food and champagne both had sweet notes and acidity. You will want to make this unexpected pairing your go-to morning meal (though it’s just as good for lunch or dinner).
Before conjuring up these dishes, Dabney traveled down to Mexico — the birthplace of the pepper — in January with Krug cellar master Éric Lebel and chefs from 12 countries to do some research. In Oaxaca, they shadowed a pepper farmer, visited a market that hawked dried and fresh peppers, learned the traditional way to prepare them and then had time to tinker in the kitchen themselves. She says her favorite among the 50,000 capsicum varieties is Aleppo.
If you can’t make the Monday garden dinners, Krug-and-pepper pairings are available daily at The Barn at Blackberry Farm upon request.