Ever seen a red-fleshed apple? Me neither, until I visited the Clos Cérisey farm in the Normandy département of Eure!
Cider production in Eure dates back to the 16th century. According to historical records, by 1868 there were already 13,600 cider trees in the area, a figure that has increased significantly thanks to local producers keeping the tradition alive to this day.
Situated in the village of Gauciel, the Clos Cérisey farm has been run by the Van Tornhout family since 1929. Originally a mixed farm, the first apple trees were grown in 1985 by Étienne Van Tornhout, and now total around 28,000. Keen to grow apples that set his farm apart from the others, Étienne and his son Stéphane discovered an apple with red skin and flesh, known as the Canadian blood apple, while on a farming internship in Quebec in 1990.
Intrigued by how this type of apple might be farmed back in France, they imported the Canadian blood apple to the farm in Normandy, where Stéphane and his wife Martine developed methods for transforming its unique tangy taste into delicious sparkling apple juice, aperitifs and cidre rosé [pink cider].
In addition to lending itself well to the production of beverages, the Canadian blood apple’s acidic taste is also particularly suitable for the production of confectionery, macaroons, chutneys and other homemade products, which Stéphane and Martine sell to visitors in the farm shop.
The Clos Cérisey is open all year round (10am-12pm and 2pm-6pm, by appointment), so why not pay a visit and find out out how all these products are made, and buy some tasty treats to take home with you?
I am sitting in a crêperie on the Quai Henri IV, the quayside overlooking Dieppe marina, on a sunny October Sunday. After a pleasant savoury galette, the time has come to please my sweet tooth. Among the usual crêpe toppings on the menu, such as whipped cream, Nutella and jam, one item stands out: Caramel de Pommes Dieppois. Caramel is a favourite in France when it comes to garnishing pancakes, and warm slices of apple are particularly appreciated here in Normandy. What about the two flavours combined then? Apart from in Dieppe, few people have heard of Caramel de Pommes Dieppois, but once you taste it, there’s no going back! It’s simple. It’s heavenly. It’s memorable.
This soft apple spread with hints of caramel was invented by local chocolatier Jean-Pierre Roussel and only has four locally-sourced ingredients: apple purée, soft butter, salted butter and granulated sugar. At first, it was simply a filling for one of Roussel’s chocolate sweets, but proved so popular that the Chocolatier decided to produce a smooth spread version and sell whole pots of the delicacy. He then passed on the recipe to Les Ateliers d’Etran, a workshop and professional integration centre located on the outskirts of town which mainly employs people with disabilities. Every day, the ‘marmitons’ mix the ingredients in a big copper pot and slowly increase the temperature until they reach the perfect texture.
What’s great about the product is the fact that it’s so simple, yet tastes so different to anything else. Just imagine your favourite caramel sweet melted into a smooth Norman apple purée and sprinkled with a touch of salt. Yes – it’s that good. So many foodies have fallen for Caramel de Pommes Dieppois that it now comes in several flavours, including ‘beurre salé’ (with extra salted butter – a best-seller) and cinnamon. It tastes absolutely divine on crêpes, toast, waffles and especially on croissants. It will also add a distinctive sweet touch to chicken, foie gras, scallops and cheese. The spread never fails to impress!
Recently, two new ranges have been introduced: Pomme en tartine (apple on toast) and Pomme en cuisine (cooking apple). The sweet version consists of Caramel de Pommes and somewhat exotic flavours such as candyfloss or marshmallow. Kids will like them. The cooking spread will add a certain je ne sais quoi to all your dishes, with notes of carrot and coriander or ginger and Calvados.
Caramel de Pommes Dieppois is available in many supermarkets, bakers and épiceries fines, and is also on the menu in several restaurants across Normandy. You won’t find it in the UK for the moment, but if this post has got your taste buds tingling, you can always order pots online – the perfect stocking filler!
Bayeux: this medieval city is undoubtedly best known for the world-famous UNESCO-listed Bayeux Tapestry, which resides there to this day, and is a fascinating 70m-long embroidery depicting the story behind the Norman Conquest. The tapestry itself, which now resides in the Bayeux Museum, is a marvel to behold. For an artifact that dates back to the 11th century, it’s in impeccable condition, and I would recommend anyone visiting Bayeux to go and see it!
In the heart of the old town, the marvellously preserved Notre-Dame Cathedral is a gem of Norman architecture, and the original home of the Bayeux Tapestry. The cathedral was consecrated in 1077 in the presence of William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and King of England. It was later extended in the Gothic style, which is how you see it today.
Always keen for an excuse to spend time in this quaint city with its half-timbered houses and turrets, I was delighted to be invited to a new event last Christmas, called William’s Cathedral. This spectacular winter event, which took place in Notre-Dame, involved a spectacular display of the Bayeux Tapestry, projected onto the cathedral walls with the aid of cutting-edge technology. The light show begins with an overview of William’s epic adventure. On either side of the nave, where it is believed the Bayeux Tapestry first hung, both the tapestry and architectural details of the nave are brought to life, while the stained glass windows in the choir are highlighted in vibrant colours. Period music adds to the whole medieval ambiance. William’s Cathedral is returning to Notre-Dame in Bayeux this year on Saturday 2 December, so make sure you don’t miss it!
Bayeux is spoilt for choice when it comes to good places to eat. Despite its small town feel, the city is in fact home to 15,000 people and it certainly knows how to keep them happy! Here’s a selection of my favourite haunts:
Le Volet qui Penche: Tucked away down a narrow medieval street by the river Aure, this little gem of a bistrot serves delicious tartines and daily specials, as well as an impressive selection of wines. Its extensive charcuterie board is a must for the meat-eaters! Impasse de l’Islet, 14400 Bayeux. www.bistrot.levoletquipenche.com
L’Assiette Normande: Within easy walking distance of the cathedral, this popular lunch spot serves all the Norman classics, from cheese and chicken to fish and seafood dishes, some even garnished with a slice of proverbial Normandy apple. Reasonably priced, good hearty food! 3 rue des Chanoines, 14400 Bayeux. www.lassiettenormande.com
Chez Paulette: In the heart of the old town, this lunch spot’s quirky decor is heaven for anyone with a penchant for bright colours and 1950s formica. The food is pretty amazing too: fresh salads, tarts, quiches and bagels, generous portions and reasonably-priced set menus. 44 rue des cuisiniers, 14400 Bayeux. www.facebook.com/chezpaulettebayeux
Le Pommier: Two doors down from Chez Paulette is the elegant Le Pommier, where Norman fare is given a modern twist. Whether you choose a set menu or go à la carte, Chez Paulette’s cuisine, with its fresh, locally sourced ingredients, is sure to delight your taste buds. 40 rue des cuisiniers, 14400 Bayeux. www.restaurantlepommier.com/en
Au P’tit Bistrot: This cosy spot opposite the cathedral is very popular with tourists and locals alike thanks to its central location and delicious cuisine! With a new menu every six weeks and a great selection of wines, it’s easy to see why its regulars keep coming back. 31 rue Larcher, 14400 Bayeux. www.facebook.com/auptitbistrot
Tempted to conquer Bayeux this festive season? William’s Cathedral begins on Saturday 2 December 2017 and will run on Fridays and Saturdays until Saturday 6 January 2018 (plus Tuesday and Thursday evenings between 26 December 2017 and 4 January 2018). Shows are at 6pm, 6:30pm, 7pm, 7:30pm and 8pm, and entry is free. For more information, visit the Bayeux Tourist Office website.
Vire is a cosy market town in the bocage hinterland of Normandy and is world famous for being home to andouille, the local smoked chitterling sausage. Over recent years, andouille has become increasingly more popular over the Channel and is now quite a trendy ingredient for foodie fashionistas. Vire is the nearest big town to my rural retreat, where my kids go to school and where I do my weekly shop, usually on a Friday when it’s market day. My son is particularly fond of this unique charcuterie, and used to call andouille ‘the black sausage’ when he was a lot younger because of its dark skin, a result of the smoking process.
Pork chitterlings are used to make the sausage and it’s well worth taking a look at the Asselot Andouille factory website to see just how the andouille takes shape. For those who would like to see the andouille artisans in action, it is also possible to join a guided tour (in French) of the Asselot factory in Vire, which takes place Tuesday-Friday in the mornings and afternoons and costs just €2 per person. This is a great way to see just how andouille is made, sample some sausage at source and buy some to take home. There is also the excellent Paul Danjou shop in Vire which sells andouille to local charcuterie connoisseurs, prepared on-site and displayed elegantly in the shop window.
My husband likes a few thin slices of andouille served with a glass of full bodied red wine as an appetiser. Andouille is an acquired taste and it is best to eat a few slices and not the whole sausage in one sitting. If you are feeling adventurous and happy to brush up on your French, Paul Danjou have a YouTube channel with some fun recipes to try out!
If you become a true fan, you could always head to Vire for the annual Fête de l’Andouille which is generally held at the end of October and is fun for all the family. This year, Portugal was the guest of honour and there were lots of cooking demos with local chefs, tastings and a special competition to find the person who makes the most realistic pig noise!
For lovers of good food, Vire is also home to some wonderful restaurants, including the sumptuous Manoir de la Pommeraie run by the dynamic young chef Julien Guérard who has previously worked in the UK and speaks excellent English. With his Japanese wife, who is a wonderful pastry chef, they serve exquisite food and use all locally sourced ingredients. The three-course lunchtime menu costs less than €30 and is excellent value for money. Vire is also home to Degrenne who produce fine crockery and cutlery in their local factory and who are proud to count the Elysée Palace and Air France among their clientèle. A factory visit (in French) or a spot of shopping in the factory shop make a trip to Vire complete!
Apéro’clock:that time of day when you head out for a glass of something cold and alcoholic! In many parts of France, you might see people reaching for the wine, but did you know that in Normandy the drinks menu revolves not around grapes, but around apples and pears?
Normandy cider, poiré [pear cider], Pommeau and Calvados are all made with a mix of bittersweet, sweet, sharp and bitter apples and/or pears, chosen from the hundreds of varieties that grow in the region. Here is a breakdown of the main ones:
Bittersweet: Low in acid and high in tannin, these characterful and flavoursome apples add a subtly sharp and bitter notes to cider. Examples: pisque, binet rouge and bedan.
Sweet: The blandest of all varieties, these apples are low in acid and tannins and are often used to balance more strongly flavoured notes. They also encourage fermentation and raise alcohol levels. Examples: rouge duret and douce coetligné.
Sharp: These acidic apples bring freshness or ‘bite’ to the cider, and balance out sweet varieties. They are low in sugar and tannins. Examples: petit jaune, rambault and cidor.
Bitter: Known as ‘spitters’, these apples and pears are rich in tannins, which provide texture and that fuzzy dry feeling in your mouth. They are used to add body and depth to cider. Examples of apple: fréquin rouge, mettais and moulin à vent. Examples of pear: plant de blanc, rouge vigné, gros blot, plant roux, de cloche and gaubert.
The distinctive flavours of Normandy’s numerous apple and pear-themed beverages are produced using centuries-old family recipes and traditional aging methods. Here are some of the main tipples on offer:
Cidre bouché: Has a lively natural sparkle, golden colour and full-bodied but fresh taste. Ideal for sharing on a summer evening.
Cidre doux:Sweet and generally low in alcohol (around 3%). Often cloudy with a slight golden orange hue, with gentle foam on top.
Cidre brut: Dry with acidic notes and a higher alcohol content than sweeter varieties (4.5% and above).
Cidre demi-sec: Fruity and sweeter than dry cider, this refreshing drink (3-5%) goes down a treat with crêpes or tarte tatin.
Poiré AOP: Made up of at least 40% plant de blanc pears, poiré is pressed then left to naturally ferment, resulting in a dry, lightly sparkling drink with a distinctive floral bouquet.
Pommeau: A sweet, amber-hued aperitif (16-18%) made from two parts freshly-pressed tannin-rich apple juice and one part young Calvados.
Calvados AOC et Pays d’Auge AOC: Traditional brandy made from cider, which is distilled and aged in oak barrels for at least two years. The longer Calvados is aged, the smoother it becomes. Younger Calvados has bittersweet, fruity flavours while older Calvados develops nutty aromas and complex coffee and chocolate notes.
Calvados Domfrontais AOC: Calvados Domfrontais differs from other types of Calvados on account of the high percentage of pears used alongside apples. The granite soil of the Pays de Domfront and distillation process also contribute to its uniquely floral, fruity taste and mineral characteristics.
Which Normandy tipple tickles your fancy? Take our thirst-quenching quiz to find out!
Question 1.When would you like to have your drink?
a) Before dinner (go to Question 2)
b) With your meal (go to Question 3)
c) Between courses (go to Question 4)
d) After I’ve finished, thank you (go to Question 5)
Question 2. Do you have a sweet tooth?
a) Certainly not (go to Answer 1)
b) Perhaps I do… (go to Answer 2)
Question 3. Are you having meat, cheese, fish or seafood?
a) Meat or cheese (go to Answer 3)
b) Fish or seafood (go to Answer 4)
Question 4. Do you need a palate cleanser?
a) I’m fine actually (go back to Question 3)
b) Well, that chicken stew was rather rich… (go to Answer 5)
Question 5. Are you ready for bed?
a) Almost (go to Answer 6)
b) No way, the night is young! (go to Answer 7)
Answer 1. Neat Calvados
Serve chilled or over ice to awaken your appetite before a large meal. The ultimate aperitif!
Answer 2. Pommeau
Calvados blended with cider apple juice, served chilled or over ice
Answer 3. Trou normand
Otherwise known as ‘the Norman hole’, this is neat Calvados with apple or pear sorbet, taken between courses to cleanse the palate
Answer 4. Cidre
Refreshing, fruity and not too strong, this is the perfect accompaniment to rich stews, chicken, beef, cheese and creamy sauces
Answer 5. Poiré
Dry, crisp and lightly sparkling, poiré is ideal with fish or seafood
Answer 6. As a digestif with coffee
To aid your digestion before bed, why not enjoy a smidgen of neat Calvados served at around 16-20º, alongside your coffee?
Answer 7. Calvados cocktail
Not ready to hit the hay? Ask the bar tender to whip you up a cocktail! We recommend the Calvados Royal (Calvados, strawberry liquor and Champagne) or the Calvados Mojito (Calvados, lime juice, cane sugar and soda water)
The Fête du Cidre à l’Ancienne [Traditional Cider Festival] takes place every year on the second weekend of November in Normandy’s cider country, the Pays d’Auge. The festival’s picturesque backdrop is the Ecomusée de la Pomme au Calvados museum in the village of Le Sap, which was a cider farm until 1937. The museum contains an exhibit on the traditional cider production methods of yesteryear, a large copper still and an antique wooden press dating back to the eighteenth century.
Over the two days of the festival, you can watch cider being made the old-fashioned way, namely with the help of a Percheron workhorse to power the cider mill, and using good old manpower to load the press.
In addition to ample opportunities to sample tasty cider (traditionally produced, of course), you can peruse the many stalls where local producers and craftsmen are selling their wares, and try out some Normandy cheese (or snails!)
Anyone feeling brave can even join in the dancing with the Mayor of Le Sap and local villagers, who are all dressed in traditional Norman attire. Watch the video below to see how the lovely Elise from the Portsmouth News got on at last year’s festivities!
After exploring all that there is to see, you can then sit down at long tables, and enjoy some tasty local grub, accompanied by a refreshing glass of (you guessed it) Normandy cider.
The best thing my husband and I did 16 years ago, was to move from the South of France to Évreux in Normandy. We’ve met such lovely people since then and our quality of life is second to none. Ideally located just 65 miles from Paris, Évreux is a small town, not too busy, with lots of wonderful countryside, villages and hidden treasures to explore. A particular highlight for us is every Saturday morning, when we always go to the local market in the town centre. We wouldn’t miss it for the world!
When you come to Évreux for the first time, you understand why Normandy is such a culinary destination of choice. All the local delicacies are available: all kinds of fruit and vegetables, meat and charcuterie, fish and shellfish, poultry and of course the dairy products for which Normandy is so famous.
You will also find, of course, the famous four Norman cheeses: Camembert de Normandie, Pont-l’Évêque, Neufchatel and Livarot (cows are everywhere and very productive in Normandy 😊), as well as all sorts of goat cheeses.
You have to try the typically French fromage blanc, which can be eaten sweet or savoury, which is nothing like cottage cheese in UK, farmer’s cheese in the USA or Quark in Germany. Here in Normandy, fromage blanc is all of that rolled into one! For this reason, Évreux market is a very interesting place if you’re a fromage blanc fan like me – it’s my favourite food!
How well do you know cow’s cheese, do you think? Have you ever tasted a cup of goat’s milk or a piece of goat’s cheese on a slice of toasted bread (French bread of course)? If not, be sure to visit Blandine’s market stall, where she sells sourdough bread. BLandine runs the Saint-Mamert Farm near Évreux, and her bread is delicious and organic. Next, head to the bikette caugéenne stall, where Alexandra will help you choose the best goat’s cheese for you! She is a passionate goat farmer the nearby village of Caugé.
Fancy taking home a dessert or two? Here comes la crème de la crème! You probably know macaroons, but have you ever been in front of a stall with hundreds of macaroons? As if you were front of a jewellery shop window? Patricia of Aux Saveurs Retrouvées, whose kitchen and coffee shop are in the village of Buis-sur-Damville, six miles away from Évreux, is a real specialist and a truly lovely person. She experiments with new macaroons every single day with such passion! Look out for her pink food truck on the market, which tends to be there from early in the morning, but be careful – her macaroons are so popular that from 10am onwards there is no guarantee that there will be any left! For more on Patricia’s macaroons, why not read our previous blog post about Aux Saveurs Retrouvées?
After your wander through the market, be sure to walk around Évreux, and do some shopping as well in all of its little shops, such as the Brûlerie Moderne coffee maker’s, which sells a large selection of coffee beans, tea and chocolate. Then, at the end of your visit to Évreux, you can go on a diet (but not before)!
Today is the day when I am literally going to talk a load of tripe. To commemorate World Tripe Day, this post focuses on a rather unexpected local delicacy from Normandy, or more precisely, from the bustling city of Caen: the famous tripes à la mode de Caen.
In the Middle Ages, William the Conqueror made Caen his own signature city, building two abbeys and a ducal castle. It is said that the local dish tripes à la mode de Caen dates back to the medieval period and the original recipe was the brainchild of a monk from the Men’s Abbey in Caen. Legend also has it that the Duke of Normandy and King of England really enjoyed a meal of local tripe, and would wash it down with apple juice.
As the daughter of good old Yorkshire stock, I was rather unfazed about the idea of eating tripe when I first came over to Normandy. My mum and dad used to occasionally eat raw tripe with buttered brown bread and vinegar when I was little, although having tried this once, I never came back for more. When making tripes à la mode de Caen, however, the tripe is traditionally simmered for a long time in a special earthenware dish until very tender, and then washed down with a glass of chilled Muscadet. Now, that sounds so much more appealing!
The next stumbling block though, is the time of day you’re supposed to eat tripe. I don’t know about you, but first thing in the morning, even a full English breakfast is hard work. I need to be wide awake and at least one cup of tea down. In my corner of Normandy, tripe is usually served as part of a leisurely breakfast before the local village fête; in other words, any time from 8:30am onwards. And never fear, even at this time of day the Muscadet is in full flow! My children’s primary schools also used to hold matinées tripes [tripe mornings] to raise funds for school trips. All the local pensioners would turn out in force at the village hall on a Sunday morning to tuck into tripe, support their grandchildren and catch up on the gossip.
If you’re feeling gutsy and you’re looking for a good spot to buy some award-winning tripes à la mode de Caen, look no further than the Boucherie Sabot in Caen. Or for those wanting to dine out in style, head to Caen’s restaurants Bœuf et Cow, Le Relais d’Alsace and Le Tablier, all of which serve this local delicacy. Also worth a visit is the gastronomic restaurant Le Dauphin, just opposite Caen Castle, which won this year’s special Tripière d’Orprize, awarded by the prestigious Confrèrie de Gastronomie Normande [Brotherhood of Norman Gastronomy] in Caen. Bon appétit !
Autumn in Normandy means food festivals galore. As one of France’s biggest apple-growing regions, there are apple festivals across the region almost every weekend in September and October! Last September, I accompanied a journalist on a trip to research the traditions behind Normandy’s ubiquitous apple. Our travel plans happily coincided with the popular Fête de la Pomme, du Cidre et du Fromage [Apple, Cider and Cheese Festival] in the pretty town of Conches-en-Ouches, so we decided to stop by.
It was a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon and as we arrived in Conches, we realised that the word was out – cars were parked on every spare bit of pavement. After circling the main town square several times, we found a parking place and then followed the crowd. After descending a winding flight of stairs to the bottom of the valley, we arrived at the festival. The event takes place in a huge park that was bathed in sunshine. Hundreds of people had gathered and there was a sense of festivity in the air and, of course, apples everywhere.
We grabbed a cup of delicious apple juice and wandered on, before coming across a stage where traditional dances were being performed in traditional Norman costume. Between the dances, a presenter was talking the spectators through the different outfits, much to everyone’s amusement.
We moved on to the market stalls to browse the fabulous fare from producers who had come to Conches from all across the region. I spotted a couple of people whom I had already met, including Patricia of Les Saveurs Retrouvées, who had by now sold the vast majority of her macaroons, and the Cidre de Glace stall was doing a roaring trade. I also recognised the familiar faces, or fabulous costumes rather, of the Confrèrie des Goustes, aka the apple pastry brotherhood.
As we left the park, queues were beginning to form next to the food stalls and the vast seating area, bathed in autumnal sunshine, was packed. There was a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, as families chattered over a cider and some cheese and foodies caught up on the latest culinary innovations from the region. All in all, it was the perfect food festival and we wished we didn’t have to leave so soon, but we knew that as we were in Normandy, another appley adventure was sure to be waiting for us just around the corner!
Every October, one of the biggest farmers’ markets you can possibly imagine, arrives in Rouen for the Fête du Ventre et de la Gastronomie Normande[Festival of the Stomach and Norman Gastronomy]. As the name would suggest, this two-day festival is a foodie mecca, with hundreds of producers from across Normandy setting up stalls in and around Rouen’s Place du Vieux Marché. Thousands gather in Rouen for the occasion – in 2015, the event attracted some 150,000 people – so you can imagine the buzzy festive atmosphere!
A large part of the old town is completely cut off to traffic and row after row of beautifully presented stalls sell a huge variety of produce. I visited Rouen last year to join in the fun and spent a fabulous few hours browsing, chatting to producers, sampling their wares and stocking up on some of the best foodie products from the region.
En route, I passed street performers and a procession of small ponies touring children through the back streets of the city. There was a huge range of produce, from fruit and vegetables to snails, jars of duck confit and even wild boar.
I then popped into the tent for a quick culinary demonstration. Here, chefs from some of the Rouen’s top restaurants prepared local specialties in front of a packed audience eager to learn new tips and watch the masters at work. When I headed back into the thick of the action, there was a group of people dressed in period costume dancing outside the church of Joan of Arc on the Place du Vieux Marché.
I wandered back through the crowds and turned a corner to hear a group of musicians, dressed in animal onesies play jazz numbers that had everyone clapping and dancing along. Finally, once I’d done various rounds of the stalls, sampled my fair share of food and bought treats for everyone back home, it was time to park up outside a café, sit back and enjoy some people-watching!