Andouille de Vire, a bit of a banger

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.

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© Office de Tourisme du Bocage Normand

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.

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© Office de Tourisme du Bocage Normand

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!

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© Office de Tourisme du Bocage Normand

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!

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The pretty Norman town of Vire © Calvados Tourisme

For further information on food and drink in the region, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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Cover photo © Calvados Tourisme | Writer: Alison Weatherhead

All you need to know about aperitifs à la Normande

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?

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© Normandy Tourist Board
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© Normandy Tourist Board

From fruit…

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.

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© Eric Lorang
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© Normandy Tourist Board

…to flute

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.

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© Nathand / fotolia.com

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)

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© Eric Lorang

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)

Santé !

For further information on food and drink in the region, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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Cover photo © Eric Lorang | Text: Adapted from The Sawday’s guide to Normandy cider 2015

Traditional cider in Le Sap

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.

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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.

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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!)

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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!

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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.

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The Fête du Cidre à l’Ancienne  takes place this weekend, so if you’re in the Pays d’Auge, make sure you don’t miss it!

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For further information on food and drink in the region, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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All photos © F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board | Writer: Fran Lambert

 

Live like a local: Saturday at the market in Évreux

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!

Evreux market © V. Joannon Normandy Tourist Board (6).jpg

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.

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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.

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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!

Evreux market © V. Joannon Normandy Tourist Board (1).JPG

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.

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© Studio Moyne

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?

Evreux market © Aux Saveurs Retrouvées
© 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)!

For further information on Évreux, visit the tourist office website. For further information on food and drink in the region, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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All photos © Valérie Joannon / Normandy Tourist Board unless otherwise stated | Writer: Valérie Joannon

What a load of tripe

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.

Statue Guillaume le Conquerant Falaise © Philippe Bosseboeuf Fotolia.com
Caen’s finest son: William the Conqueror © Philippe Bossebouef / Fotolia.com

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.

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The Men’s Abbey in Caen © Kevin14 / Fotolia.com 

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!

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Tripes à la mode de Caen © Calvados Tourisme

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.

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Tripes à la mode de Caen © Fotolia.com

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’Or prize, awarded by the prestigious Confrèrie de Gastronomie Normande [Brotherhood of Norman Gastronomy] in Caen. Bon appétit !

For further information on food and drink in the region, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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Cover photo © Fotolia.com | Writer: Alison Weatherhead

Apple, cider and cheese, what more do you need?

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.

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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches

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.

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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches
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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches

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.

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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches

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.

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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches

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!

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The Fête de la Pomme, du Cidre et du Fromage takes place on Sunday 29th October this year so be sure to stop off if you’re over in Normandy for half-term! For more information on food festivals in the region, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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Cover photo © philipimage / Fotolia.com | Writer: Maggie McNulty

The Fête du Ventre, Rouen’s biggest food festival

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!

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© Philippe Deneufve

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.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board
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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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.

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© Andrea Solter

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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.

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© Philippe Deneufve

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!

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For more information on food and drink in Normandy, please visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

Cover photo © Philippe Deneufve | Writer: Maggie McNulty

 

 

 

10 reasons we can’t wait for All the Sea on a Plate

1. The Toute la Mer sur un Plateau [All the Sea on a Plate] festival takes place on the port of Granville, meaning that you can pretty much eat fresh fish and seafood straight off the fishing boats…

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© M. Coupard / Fotolia

2. Granville is France’s number 1 shellfish port, so if anyone can put on a cracking shellfish-themed festival, it’s certainly this town!

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3. Last year, no fewer than 50,000 people flooded into Granville for this popular festival – we reckon that’s an endorsement if any.

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4. Several tons of oysters, scallops, mussels, shrimps, whelks and lobsters are caught and brought into Granville for the festival, where visitors can then enjoy them with a refreshing glass of kir.

5. All the Sea on a Plate attracts not just Frenchies, but people hailing from all over the place (including my three journalists and me!) so the event has a real cosmopolitan feel to it.

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6. Live music will be played all weekend right on the quais, so why not enjoy a jog to a sea shanty or two?

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© Pierre Jeanson

7. Also on the agenda are cooking workshops, a food market, tastings, activities for children, film screenings and an exhibition that looks into the life of a fisherman.

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8. Around the harbour is an assortiment of restaurants and food stalls, so visitors can dine al fresco and look out over the picturesque port, whether from a terrasse or one of the many benches set up especially for the festival.

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9. In addition to all the fab food on offer, you can also peruse the many wine, clothes and arts and crafts stalls, and take back home some souvenirs of Granville.

10. You could even make the most of your stay by visiting the Christian Dior Museum, which is currently hosting an exhibition dedicated to the famous designer’s childhood in Granville and his 22 post-war collections.

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

‘All the Sea on a Plate’ takes place on Saturday 30th September and Sunday 1st October. For more information, visit the Granville Terre & Mer website.

For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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All photos © Normandy Tourist Board unless otherwise stated | Cover photo © Kevin14 / Fotolia | Writer: Fran Lambert

Foraging for mushrooms in the Orne

The prize: the Cèpe d’or, or rather, the Golden Porcini mushroom in English, though that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it… No, this particular mushroom is not edible, but you can win it at the Mycologiades Internationals, the International Wild Mushroom Festival, which takes place at the end of September in the village of Bellême, the home of all things mushroom in Normandy.

Often in autumn, I’m stuck for ideas on what to do – winter’s on its way, and the bad weather with it. Of course, it is apple season in Normandy but I’m looking for other fresh foodie ideas. Why not mushrooms? I can already picture the colours of the forest and hear the crunch of leaves under my feet!

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© J. E. Rubio / Normandy Tourist Board

Since 1953, the International Wild Mushroom Festival in the Perche Regional Natural Park has been welcoming visitors on a mushroom foraging quest led by a mycologist (that’s a mushroom expert to you and me). So it was that my friend and I took a basket one Sunday last autumn and played Little Red Riding Hood for the weekend. After the mushroom foraging, all of our foodie treasures were laid out and we were given a presentation on all of the different mushrooms that we had found. Alas, our efforts were not quite enough to win us the coveted Golden Porcini, but we were proud of ourselves, and now felt far more confident about telling the difference between edible and poisonous mushrooms!

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© J. E. Rubio / Normandy Tourist Board

I could well have enjoyed eating some tasty mushrooms at the festival but there was a nearby mushroom hot-spot that I wanted to try whilst I was in the Perche: La Tête Noire restaurant in the nearby village of Saint-Germain-de-la-Coudre. Only 15 minutes from the International Wild Mushroom Festival, La Tête Noire offers an intimate, buzzy atmosphere and serves fresh food sourced from local artisan producers. In keeping with the theme of the day, I opted for the restaurant’s speciality: soft-boiled eggs with fried wild mushrooms. Yum yum, it tasted like grandma’s homemade cooking and gave a real taste of Perche terroir.

Cueillette des champignons © J.E. Rubio
© J. E. Rubio / Normandy Tourist Board

At the end of our dinner, the waitress passed our table with some mouth-watering dauphinois potatoes with mushrooms and Normandy cream – it smelt irresistible! When I saw the couple who had ordered it enjoying their meal, I knew I should not miss out on this experience – that’s what I’ll be ordering next time! One strawberry baba dessert later, I left the restaurant, pleasantly full and satisfied with my lot, readier than ever to face the coming week.

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© Joe Gough

This year, the International Wild Mushroom Festival takes place from 28 September to 1 October, and offers all sorts of fun mushroomy activities like exhibitions, seminars, and of course the Cèpe d’or competition! If you are interested in taking part in this foraging extravaganza, visit the website to sign up: www.mycologiades.com (website in French only).

Alternatively, if you fancied an autumn ramble in the forest and a leisurely lunch at La Tête Noire, why not browse the Perche Regional Natural Park website for walking routes and book a table? Bon appétit!

For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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Cover photo © J. E. Rubio / Normandy Tourist Board | Writer: Marie Buchet

A pinch of Normandy saffron

Trug basket in hand, Myriam Duteuil carefully scans her saffron beds, assessing which of the crocus blooms are ready for harvesting. She carefully picks flowers that pass muster, taking care not to remove leaves with them as that can damage the bulb (or corm) beneath. Each flower yields just three of the precious red stigmas that are extracted and dried to make saffron strands.

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

This precision method of harvesting, hard on the knees and back and unchanged from images on Minoan frescoes from 3,500BC, combined with a regular cycle of replanting each summer to ensure a steady supply of flowers, and the need to plant and weed by hand, helps to explain why the ‘spice of joy’ costs more than gold.

None of this deterred Myriam – the daughter and grand-daughter of farmers – when she decided to return to her roots and grow apples and saffron organically at the Domaine de Gauville, in St-Pierre de Salerne, south-west of Rouen.

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© William Crossley

She bought the farmstead a decade ago, while working as a TV executive in Paris. During a long broadcasting career she devised and then ran Cuisine TV, France’s main food channel, but six years ago decided to change tack. ‘Saffron has an exotic image,’ says Myriam. ‘Most of the world’s supply comes from Iran, but it really needs cool, moist conditions to grow well. The ideal temperature is about 15°C, so Normandy is a good place for it.’

Saffron was widely grown across Europe in the Middle Ages, when it was prized for its medicinal qualities. The East of England was a key centre for production and the flower gave its name to the Essex town of Saffron Walden.

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

Myriam planted 21,000 bulbs in 1.2 hectares of beds in 2012, gathering her first harvest in 2015, and plans to expand the area she cultivates to two hectares. The saffron crocus blooms in autumn, with the harvesting period lasting about four weeks, usually in October. ‘I pick in the early morning, before the flowers open,’ says Myriam. ‘A skilled picker can collect 1,000 flowers in an hour, which will produce 5g of saffron. I dry the flowers and then open them to extract the stigmas.’

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

Her harvest yields about 700g of saffron a year. A kilogram is worth about £25,000. Total annual production in France is 150kg, a figure that pales by comparison with the 30 tonnes a year produced before the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century.

Myriam sells her saffron packaged as strands for both professional chefs and home cooks to use in their dishes, along with a range of saffron-flavoured preserves, biscuits, cake, mustard and vinegar under her Biâo Pur Safran de Normandie brand (Biâo is the Norman dialect word for beautiful). Another customer is a local dairy, which makes delicately-flavoured saffron ice cream.

She is keen to encourage people to make more use of saffron in their cooking: ‘It used to be used by so many people in everyday recipes, but now in France it is mostly used by chefs or in seasonal foods for Christmas, particularly in Normandy.’

Her top tip when buying saffron is to look for strands that are deep red in colour. If it looks brown or yellowy it has been over-dried or is too old to use, or may have been adulterated.

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

Myriam emphasises saffron’s versatility in the kitchen, for everything from a Moroccan-style morning tea infusion using a single strand, to a risotto, paella or a sweet apple cake. She recommends three strands per person in a sweet dish, six per person in a savoury dish and nine per person in a paella or with shellfish.

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© William Crossley

She adds: ‘As well as using the right amount, saffron should always be infused in a liquid before it is used in a dish – water, stock, milk or cream – and added five to 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time to add flavour. If you are making risotto, put the saffron in some stock the night before. Rehydrating dried saffron liberates the flavour and colour.’

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

For those keen to learn more, Myriam runs two-day cookery classes in a professional-standard kitchen at the farm, including visits from local chefs and bakers, with accommodation provided in the farmhouse, which can also be rented as a gîte. You could even help out with this year’s harvest, but book soon to avoid disappointment!

For more information about the Domaine de Gauville and Biâo Safran de Normandie, visit the Domaine de Gauville website (in French). For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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This copy has been reproduced courtesy of the Oxford Times.

Cover photo © Normandy Tourist Board | Writer: William Crossley