August 19, 2008

I was perusing my local grocery a few days ago, poking around the produce department just to see what was new, when I came across a recent delivery of Champagne grapes.

For the uninitiated, Champagne grapes are gorgeous clusters of tiny, seedless magenta jewels. They are sweet and juicy, with a flavor reminiscent of wine and a firm skin that pops pleasantly in your mouth.

Fun fact: Champagne grapes are not used to make Champagne. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier grapes perform that illustrious duty.  Champagne grapes  got their upscale moniker from their frequent use as a garnish for the bubbly.

Champagne grapes are, however, used to make currants, the teensy-tiny raisins usually found in baked goods.

Native to Greece, Champagne grapes are more properly called Black Corinth grapes, so named for the bustling port of Corinth, from which they were shipped after being sun-dried. The word "Corinth" eventually evolved into "currant." Sometimes currants are packaged under the name "Zante Currants" which refers to the Greek port Zante.

Another fun fact: Fresh currants are a completely different plant!

So to recap:

Champagne grapes are not used to make Champagne and fresh currants are not used to make dried currants but Champagne grapes are used to make dried currants. Simple, eh?

For more fun and less head scratching, pick up a bunch of Champagne grapes (or whatever you would like to call them) and sit back for some delicious nibbling. The easiest way to enjoy the tiny grapes is by pulling them from their stems with your teeth.

On a cheese tray, with their old chum Champagne or on their own, these delicate bites are a treat -- and a limited opportunity. Peak season is July Though early October.

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