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5-9 Rue Etienne Dolet,
In 1841 Auguste-Denis Lagoute infused local blackberries from Dijon to create the first crème de cassis liqueur. Today, the company he started, Lejay Lagoute remains one of only four producers in the French town of Dijon permitted to make ‘Crème de cassis de Dijon’.
Known by many as simply ‘Lejay’ or ‘Le Jay’, hence the distinctive jay bird motif on their labels, Lejay Lagoute are the original makers of crème de cassis. They are also the leading producer, making six million out the nine million bottles sold annually.
In 1841 Auguste-Denis Lagoute established his liqueur business in Dijon, a city which lies in the heart of France’s Burgundy wine region. Food and drink is taken very seriously here with an International Gastronomic Fair held in the city each autumn. As well as wine, the city is famed for its Dijon mustard, ginger cake and thanks to Auguste-Denis Lagoute, crème de cassis.
Lejay Lagoute has occupied four different addresses in the centre of Dijon, the first two were demolished and have been lost without trace. The liqueur maker moved to its third home at 19 Rue Ledru Rollin (on the corner of Rue de Mulhouse) in 1898 and stayed there until January 2013.
After over 100 years, the move to a new purpose built production facility was necessitated by a lack of space and health and safety concerns, particularly with the quantity of high proof alcohol in such a densely populated location in the centre of the city. The piece by piece move started in July 2012 with the last people and processes moving between Christmas and New Year’s Day 2013. Now an apartment building, the local authority insisted that the front wall of the old factory baring the Lejay Lagoute name be retained and incorporated into the new residential building.
Lejay Lagoute’s new home (at 5-9 Rue Etienne Dolet) is not only safer but having the production process laid out across one large floor compared to over three stories of the old building, brought many efficiencies and improved production techniques.
The most notable change in production was the move away from the huge wooden vats which lined the basement of the old building. For over 100 years, in these blackcurrants were steeped in alcohol for six to eight weeks. At the end of this period they were drained with woven wicker filters inside the vats holding back the skins of the spent blackberries. Then someone would have to crawl through the small door inside to dig out the sludge and clean the vat. Today purpose built self-cleaning stainless steel vats have replaced these old oak vats. While not looking as quaint their stainless steel replacements are easier to use and produce a better product.
The wooden vats were so old that the wood didn’t contribute any flavour and when filled the only way to ensure the blackcurrants were evenly mixed with the alcohol was to stir with a large wooden paddle from the top of the vat, in doing so also increasing oxygen contamination. The new vats are mechanically revolved for five minutes when first filled, enabling the contents to be mixed without needing to open. The six to eight week maceration is still static with the vats revolved again only when drained. As they turn a screw action pushes out the spent fruit skins and pulp.
The old wooden vats now line the street outside the new building, a reminder of Lejay Lagoute’s former home. Inside the building display cases are filled with medals and other artefacts from the company’s history dating back to the early 1900s. Lejay Lagoute may have a modern home but its heritage is honoured and its crème de cassis and other liqueurs are still made according to the recipes and techniques established by Auguste-Denis Lagoute in 1841.