In 1755 a young cook in the court of Count Stanislav (Duke of Lorraine) created a small sponge cake which became popular in the court of Versailles and subsequently won a permanent place in French cupboards. In the town of Commercy I find the small artisanal bakery of Zins which still produces this light, shell-shaped cake by hand. The traditional sponge delight has a hint of lemon, but today they make a range of madeleines to cater for modern tastes, including an outer coating of chocolate or a filling of local mirabelle plum jam. They are best eaten warm with coffee and luckily the bakery has an adjoining café where I can do just that.
70 kms east of Commercy is the unassuming town of St Nicholas de Port but, even as far back as the 16th and 17th centuries, it was a centre for brewing beer. There is not much beer being made there now, but luckily a magnificent art-deco brewery was saved from demolition when the company closed in 1985 and turned into a museum.
My visit is enhanced by a detailed audioguide which leads me first through the rooms of the main administration building where photos of the brewery students from 1893 to 1972 are displayed and beautiful stained-glass windows adorn a wood-panelled tasting room. There are also exhibitions of advertising information and the traditional process of beer making in Africa.
The second part of my tour takes me into the tower where the beer was made. All the machinery, tanks and shiny copper stills remain in place and I soon learn what a complicated process it is to produce beer.
At the end of my tour I am offered a sample of the local brew which the assistant informs me is light and drinkable, but at 6% alcohol and with a strong malty taste, I have to differ.