Happy Valentine’s Day! In keeping with the occasion, we’ve chosen this most romantic of days to focus on Normandy’s most romantic of gastronomic fare, starting with the noble Neufchâtel. One of Normandy’s oldest cheeses, Neufchâtel is often recognised for its distinctive heart shape. Tradition has it that during the many wars during the Middle Ages between France and England, young Norman girls would give English soldiers a special heart-shaped Neufchâtel cheese as a token of their affection. Why not continue this tradition this year by giving your Valentine a special taste of Normandy? After all, nothing says I love you more than some French bread and some delicious cheese! For those of you unable to access the real deal, we rather like the Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference version, which comes in at a thrifty £3…
Normandy is also home to delicious seafood and the local oysters are a must for your menu this Valentine’s Day. Along the Channel Coast around the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy’s oyster beds are world renowned. Why not treat yourself to this aphrodisiac delight for your special Valentine’s Day meal? Oysters are wonderful served simply with a squeeze of lemon juice or with a dash of shallot vinegar.
And a special Valentine’s Day tipple? Do pop the cork on a bottle of Normandy poiré (pear cider from the south of the region), or a glass of its better-known cousin, Normandy apple cider. This lightly sparkling cider has a light and fruity taste and makes a refreshing change from bubbly! We love new Normandy cider brand Sassy Cidre, which is now widely available in Selfridges and a wide selection of restaurants and bars in London, Birmingham and Manchester! Enjoy it chilled and with a sprinkling of fresh raspberries to decorate your flûte.
The father of the Impressionist movement, Claude Monet, lived for half his life in the quaint village of Giverny along the banks of the Seine. He moved to Normandy in his later years in 1883 with his future second wife and their eight children. From this point onwards, Monet’s work started to gain recognition and this financial success allowed the artist to indulge his passion for the good things in life, including entertaining.
Just as the inspiration for many of Monet’s works was drawn from his gardens and the Normandy landscape, so the meals served at Giverny were based upon the best local fare from the family’s very own kitchen garden, small holding and Norman producers. Regular visitors included fellow artists, namely Renoir, Pissarro, Degas, Cézanne and Whistler, plus the statesman Clemenceau, who was a close family friend. They came for lunch and would eat early at 11:30am, allowing Monet to make the most of the afternoon light for his painting. Monet also went to bed very early in order to rise at sun rise to catch the light for his painting, so guests were generally not invited to dine.
The food served at Monet’s table was honest and hearty with a few creative flourishes including floral garnishes. Visitors today can see where these feasts were prepared in the blue and white kitchen with its impressive copper pans and in the bright ochre dining room see where the famous guests would join the Monet family around the table at the Fondation Monet in Giverny.
The recipes collected in the artist’s cooking journals, carnets de cuisine, include dishes Monet had come across on his travels or had enjoyed in restaurants. For those who would like to try out some of these recipes for themselves, I have selected three cook books which draw on the carnets for inspiration:
1. The author Claire Joyes, wife of Madame Monet’s great-grandson, spent years selecting Monets’ favourite recipes and writing a wonderfully evocative introduction to the collection Monet’s Table, which was published by Éditions du Chêne.
2. Another interesting cookbook is Monet’s Palate Cookbook by Aileen Bordmann and Derek Fell with beautiful photography and a forward by Meryl Streep. A DVD of the same name, which explores Monet’s life and recipes, is also available.
3. A more recent addition is the The Monet Cookbook by Florence Prestel, which is billed as ‘a fitting tribute to the painter and his legendary aesthetic… the next best thing to sitting at Monet’s table.’ For a sneak preview of three recipes in this book – Eggs Orsini, Potato Pie and Strawberry Mousse – take a look at this article in Vogue magazine: www.vogue.com/article/food-cookbooks-recipes-claude-monet
If, however, you would prefer to come to Normandy and cook in situ as Monet might have done, then why not join a Chef Chez Vous 76 cooking course run by the local chef, Régine Boidin, either in Le Havre or at her home just outside the port town, which doubles up as a B&B? These lessons are excellent fun and a wonderful way to combine great art and good food. And you get to eat your culinary creations at the end…
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to spend the night in a giant Calvados barrel? Probably not – I hadn’t either! But when I discovered that overlooking the lush countryside of the Pays d’Auge, B&B owners Patrick and Paulette had converted a 10,000-litre Calvados Barrel into a snug bedroom, I had to check it out.
When Patrick and Paulette set their hearts on opening up a B&B, they were looking for two things. Firstly, a property in the timeless Pays d’Auge – Normandy’s lush agricultural land of picture-perfect countryside. Secondly, they were looking for a project so that talented handyman Patrick could get stuck into some serious building work while Paulette could use her creative flair to work on the design.
When they happened upon an abandoned nineteenth-century cider farm, Domaine de La Cour au Grip, located on the 25-mile Cider Route, they realised they’d hit the jackpot. The site consisted of a main farmhouse and several outbuildings, all made out of the traditional wattle-and-daub and in a total state of disrepair. Their idea was to convert the outbuildings into guest rooms for the B&B and keep the main house as their family home.
When they set to work they quickly discovered barrels and bottles and all kinds of paraphernalia left over from the days of cider production. The pièce de resistance was the giant Calvados barrel that they found in perfect condition. With no question of throwing out such quality oak, Patrick immediately started planning how he could best use the barrel. When the idea of another guest room came to mind, it was the perfect answer – a bridge between past and present.
I had visions of a cosy but slightly claustrophobic bedroom with barely enough space for a bed. Instead, with windows on three sides offering 35 miles of uninterrupted views across the valley and a clever bespoke interior design, the result is a light and inviting bedroom that feels very private. Another semi-converted barn has a lounge and shower facilities for guests staying in the barrel. With one exterior wall missing to allow for spectacular views over the valley, and stacks of hay where the farm cat sat purring atop, I loved the rustic charm of this barn setup.
All the furniture in the barn comes from clever upcycling of the barrels and wood that Patrick found during the renovation work. My favourite was the rocking chair.
Having checked in to my barrel, I took a seat in the barn, enjoyed a glass of delicious local cidre and admired the view over the valley and the disappearing sun that set the barrel aglow. All was well with the world!
Tomorrow marks National Cheese Lovers’ Day in the USA, an occasion so worth celebrating that, even though we’re not American, we just had to jump on the bandwagon! After all, Normandy is renowned around the world for being a cheese-producing region, thanks to the abundance of rich milk produced by its many lovely Norman cows.
If you are a fan of soft cheeses, Normandy really is the region for you, boasting four world-famous AOC (quality-certified) cheeses – Camembert de Normandie, Livarot, Neufchâtel and Pont-l’Evêque – which are best enjoyed with fresh crusty bread and washed down with a glass of local cider or Calvados.
All you need to know about the four Norman cheeses:
Camembert de Normandie
Round in form, Camembert de Normandie is a soft cheese with a floury rind left to ripen for 35 days. The cheese was perfected in 1791 by Marie Harel, a lady farmer from the village of Camembert, following the advice of the priest Abbott Bonvoust, who hailed from the town of Brie and had been staying with her. Camembert de Normandie was given to French troops during World War I, making this cheese firmly entrenched in French popular cuisine culture as a result. Over 50 million AOC Camembert de Normandie rounds are produced a year!
One of the oldest and greatest Normandy cheeses, Livarot is a monastic French cheese originating in the village of Livarot. This cheese is called ‘The Colonel’ because of the five strips of raffia that are wrapped around each cheese, similar to the stripes worn on French colonels’ uniforms. With its distinctive orange rind and its pungent aroma, Livarot requires up to two months of ripening in warm, humid cellars in order to obtain its delicious and unmistakable flavour.
The oldest of the Normandy cheeses, Neufchâtel is almost a thousand years old with traces of its existence dating back as far as 1035. Produced within a 30km radius of Neufchâtel-en-Bray in the Seine-Maritime département, Neufchâtel is ready to eat ten days after being made. It is a lightly salted, cream and smooth cheese with a white, floury rind and is often heart-shaped. Legend has it that during the Hundred Years’ War, young girls offered Neufchâtel cheese to English soldiers as a token of their love!
Originally produced in the monasteries of the Pays d’Auge, the first mention of Pont-l’Évêque dates back to the thirteenth century, when manuscripts of the time mention ‘Angelot’, the cheese from which Pont-l’Évêque evolved. In 1263 AD, Guillaume de Lorris proclaimed in his book Roman de la Rose that ‘a good table wine always finishes with a dessert of Angelot’. Left to ripen for six weeks, the square-shaped Pont-l’Évêque cheese has a soft ochre or golden-yellow rind and a smooth, creamy texture.
And there you have it – the four Norman cheeses! Why not treat yourself to some this weekend? While Livarot can be found in specialist cheese shops across the UK, Camembert de Normandie, Neufchâtel and Pont-l’Évêque are widely available in UK supermarkets, so go pick some up later and let us know which one’s your favourite – bon appétit !
Suffering from the January blues? Why not book yourself a weekend away in Normandy this winter and enjoy one of the many foodie hot spots in the region? With many hotels in Normandy offering fantastic restaurants on site – in some cases, a Michelin star or Bib Gourmand too – once you arrive, you can kick back in the warm all weekend if you want to!
Get inspired by our sumptuous selection of gourmet accommodation:
1. Bagnoles-de-l’Orne: Le Manoir du Lys****
Need to recharge the batteries with a country break? The Manoir de Lys is just the spot; an old hunting lodge in the heart of the Andaines forest, close to the spa and golf course in Bagnoles de l’Orne. Enjoy top quality comfort throughout the manor house, as well an an indoor and outdoor pool, not to mention one of the region’s finest restaurants – everything you need, in fact, for a relaxing stay.
Chef Franck Quinton is in charge of the kitchen, serving creative and delicious dishes with a highly personal touch. A Michelin-starred chef for the past 19 years, above all, his priorities lie in seasonality, local produce and regional specialties.
“My cooking is of the moment, and I want it to be as wonderful as nature. I’m happy with my hallmark, which is nature and natural.”
Our favourite dish: It has to be the assorted forest mushrooms fresh from the Andaines forest – delicious!
Set menus start at €46| Rooms start at €109/night
2. Étretat: Domaine Saint-Clair Le Donjon***
In a prime position overlooking the town, the Domaine Saint-Clair Le Donjon resembles a film-set, with its 100-year-old crenelated tower. The atmosphere continues inside this rambling seaside villa, with baroque-style bedrooms, all extravagantly decorated. After a visit to the spa, dine by candlelight with a view of Étretat’s famous cliffs.
Discover delicious flavours at the hotel’s gourmet restaurant, which has been awarded 3 forks in the Michelin Guide. On the menu is local cuisine, traditional dishes revisited and a seasonal menu. Depending on what produce is available at the market, the chef gives free rein to his inspiration, transforming ingredients into sublime dishes, with particular emphasis on seafood. Between March and October, dishes feature fruit, vegetables and herbs fresh from the kitchen garden.
Our favourite dish: Without a doubt the chocolate orange dessert!
Set menus start at €29 | Rooms start at €90/night
3. Audrieu (near Port-en-Bessin): Château d’Audrieu****
Situated between Caen and Bayeux, the Château d’Audrieu is an 18th-century listed historic monument, surrounded by 62 acres of English and French gardens and fruit and vegetable patches. Decorated in true 18th-century style with all mod cons, a spa and a heated outdoor swimming pool, the Château d’Audrieu is the epitome of luxury.
Chef Olivier Barbarin proposes a constantly evolving menu at the hotel’s lavish restaurant “Le Séran”, which boasts three beautifully renovated dining rooms complete with a 600-bottle wine cellar covering one entire wall!
“My thirst for discovering new things coupled with my exciting career alongside top Michelin-starred chefs allows me to offer a cuisine that is both simple and delicious. By showcasing the flavours of the huge range of products from Normandy and vegetables from the château’s kitchen garden, I want to offer everyone who comes to eat at “Le Séran” a unique experience.”
Our favourite dish: The filet de boeuf à la foie gras – simple, succulent and cooked to perfection.
Set menus start at €65 | Rooms start at €264/night
4. Saint-Germain-sur-Ay (near Lessay): La Ferme des Mares***
Overlooking picturesque marshland, a haven for migratory birds, the Ferme des Mares sits close to the coast in the village of Saint-Germain-sur-Ay. This large 17th-century farm has had a complete makeover, individually decorating every bedroom, some traditional, others contemporary, all exquisite. A stay here is a breath of fresh air in every sense of the word.
In the elegant dining room, a relaxed atmosphere and top service provide a memorable dining experience. The chef has a refreshing outlook on food, showcasing locally sourced seasonal produce and natural flavours, producing eclectic dishes that taste every bit as good as they look!
“Above all, we set out to be thorough in all that we do. We pay equal attention to French culinary heritage and the sourcing of the very best that local producers have to offer. That’s the melting pot from which we aim to create something brand new.”
Our favourite dish: The squid-ink linguine with cod and squid – fresh, fragrant and flavourful!
Set menus start at €27 | Rooms start at €86 / night
5. Surville: Manoir de Surville****
Amidst cornfields between Évreux and Giverny, the beautiful Manoir de Surville has kept its timber framing, stonework and 14th-century roof tiles, while the former cattle barn has been transformed into superbly decorated and furnished bedrooms. With recliners in the garden and the spa for that all-important ‘pick me up’, this is the perfect place to unwind.
The philosophy of Chef Jordan’s kitchen is to serve seasonal and creative gourmet cuisine, concentrating on both authenticity and simplicity. High-quality ingredients are of the utmost importance, and there is only one menu which changes every day to reflect what is available at the market, comprising a starter, main course, cheese plate and dessert.
Our favourite dish: The citrus fruit and meringue dessert with basil makes for a tangy taste explosion!
Set menus start at €39 | Rooms start at €180 / night
Happy National Sausage Day to one and all! Yes, 5th January is the UK’s dedicated day to celebrate all things sausage.
Fittingly, we’ve thought of a warming winter recipe from Normandy (sausage-themed, naturally) to keep the cold out this crisp January morning: black (or white) pudding with apples, served with a healthy helping of pommes de terres purées.
Sound good? Read on…
If black pudding isn’t your thing, why not try white pudding or butcher’s sausages instead?
Here’s what you’ll need for a bangers and mash banquet for four:
black pudding 500g (cook whole, not sliced)
4 cox apples
1 tbsp grain mustard
Set the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Peel and chop the potatoes then then put in a saucepan of water. Bring the water to the boil, add a decent pinch of salt then lower the heat and leave to cook for about 20 minutes until soft.
Chop in half and slice the apples then place in a greased roasting tin. Place a knob of butter on each and bake for 15 minutes. Slice the black (or white) pudding into 4 pieces and place in the roasting tin next to the apples with a knob of butter over each. Return to the oven for a further 15 minutes until the black (or white) pudding is sizzling and the apples are fluffed up.
Drain the vegetables then either mash the mixture by hand or using a blender. Add the butter, then beat till soft, light and creamy. Fold in the parsley and mustard then seasoning with black pepper. Place the black (or white) pudding and apple pieces on each plate, garnish with a sprig of parsley, add a healthy dollop of mash and serve.
To be frank, I have always had a bit of a problem with New Year’s Eve, which can be the ultimate in anticlimaxes. However, last year my husband and I treated ourselves to an evening out at a local gourmet restaurant. The menu was surprising, the food exquisite and the wines were chosen for us to accompany the six-course meal and included a trou normand and champagne. Looking around in Normandy for this year, here are my top five recommendations for great places to eat out on New Year’s Eve:
This is a 5-star gourmet break with a difference, including an overnight stay, dancing, a special New Year’s Eve menu and a bottle of champagne at restaurant La Belle Époque. The Hôtel Barrière Le Normandy Deauville oozes charm and sophistication, and is handily positioned on the seafront for long walks along the beach on New Year’s Day.
Tucked away in a quiet spot in the Andaine forest, on the edge of the cosy spa town Bagnoles-de-l’Orne, Le Manoir de Lys is a sumptous Relais de Silence hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant. The New Year’s Eve menu, which includes foie gras, caviar, scallops and camembert, is mouthwatering and there is musical accompaniment to while away the evening.
This quirky, boutique hotel offers wonderful views over the iconic seaside village of Étretat, much loved and painted by Monet. For the New Year’s Eve menu, the accent is on excellent local food with scallops from Fécamp, Rouen-style duck and traditional French onion soup in the early hours! A warm welcome awaits in the recently restyled restaurant with its brightly painted murals, overlooking the sea.
The old school charm of this mill on the banks of the River Seine with its duck egg blue half-timbered façade is the ideal spot for a romantic get away for a New Year’s Eve en amoureux. There is a playful gastronomic menu on offer for 31 December with some French classics and nice Norman touches, including a velouté of oysters from Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue.
The New Year’s Eve menu on offer in this resolutely modern restaurant combines the joint passions of the chef, Emmanuel, and sommelier, Joachim, to give you the perfect dining experience. Not far from Avranches, at the southernmost point of the Bay of the Mont-Saint-Michel, La Toque aux Vins is the ideal spot to enjoy the best of local food, including Granville oysters, as a treat to see in the New Year in style.
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.