Onions have been used since ancient times – the Egyptians used them in cooking and there are pictures and inscriptions of onions on their monuments. The Bible states how, during the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness, they longed for the onions, leeks, and garlic they had had in Egypt. Onions were also thought to have medicinal properties making them a perfect choice for soup.
Legend has it that French Onion Soup was created by King Louis XV of France. Late one night, he discovered he only had onions, butter and champagne at his hunting lodge, so he mixed them together to create the first French onion soup. Other stories attribute the creation to King Louis XIV.
French Onion Soup harks back to the Medieval use of “sops” as it is topped with dry bread or croutons and cheese. The rich flavour of the soup comes from the beef broth and the caramelized onions and it is a great winter warmer. You can add cognac or sherry to this recipe instead of red wine if you prefer. French Onion Soup is traditionally topped with Gruyère cheese – which comes from both France and Switzerland (the French version has holes in it whereas the Swiss version doesn't).
The controversy over who made Gruyère cheese first lies in the fact that it is made all over the Jura Mountains and the modern border between France and Switzerland cuts these in two. Neither side can agree who is the rightful claimant to the cheese as the first Gruyère was made by the tribe Sequanes living in the Jura, as recorded in Roman times in 40 BC.
The name of Gruyère either comes from the area named after the Count of Gruyère who went out hunting one day with the intention of naming his County after the first thing he killed. He killed a crane, (a grue in French) and thus became the Count of Gruyère. Or it could come from the title of an officer of the French government in the Middle Ages called a "gruyer" who collected taxes - in the form of cheese. The French claim that it is this gruyer that their cheese is named after and they can show tax records that date back to the 1100s to prove it.
French Onion Soup
3 garlic cloves
2 or 3 glasses of red wine
1¼ pint fresh beef stock
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
8 thick slices of bread
10oz gruyère cheese, grated
salt and pepper
Peel and thinly slice the onions and garlic and sauté in butter for 15 mins, until brown. Add the red wine, stock and balsamic vinegar. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 mins. Toast the bread and top with the grated cheese and place under the grill until the cheese is melted. Season the soup with salt and pepper and top with the toast.
This soup would be great with a glass of Chateau Toumalin (£9.49) – it's a shining, ruby red colour, has a strong, pleasant bouquet with hints of roasted wood, black fruits and blueberries. It's silky, fine, strong and ageable with refined tannins. Toumalin is a little gem and compliments stronger flavoured meats such as Game Birds ,Wild Boar and Venison and cheeses like Gruyère.
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