La Vieille Abbaye is a self-catering gite and B&B boasting fantastic foodie credentials. British lass Kate moved to Normandy 15 years ago when she married Stéphane, a Norman dairy farmer. When they came across this farm with its beautiful seventeenth-century farmhouse in the Suisse Normande, they fell in love with it immediately and quickly snapped it up.
Neither Stéphanie nor Kate do things by halves and for Stéphane, having his own farm was his opportunity not only to grow a herd of Norman dairy cows but to produce his own cream, yoghurt and butter too. Kate had a vision of transforming the large farmhouse and adjoining stone barn building into luxury accommodation where families of all sizes would be welcome.
The accommodation is superb. The exposed stone walls and chintzy patchwork quilts give that cosy country farmhouse feel while the four-poster bed, twinkling chandelier and roll top bath add a good dose of luxury. I stayed in one of the vast B&B suites in the main farmhouse, overlooking the courtyard and garden on one side and the cow shed on the other.
For guests who want to learn more about farming, Stéphane will happily show you his cows and tell you about his love of farming.
Kate is a keen cook and offers guests an evening meal so of course, I had to sign up and sample her fare. Kate invited me into her kitchen to see how she prepares some of her signature dishes and tell me a little bit more about her Anglo-Norman cooking. She is passionate about cooking with fresh, local ingredients and keeps food-miles to a minimum. At the farm, she grows her own vegetables and herbs, the farm provides all her dairy produce and when the meat doesn’t come from their own livestock, it comes from neighbouring farms never more than 10km away.
Kate tells me that she’s always been keen on cooking quality, healthy food. Since moving to Normandy her cooking is at its core healthy, but admittedly, there’s a good dose of cream involved!
My meal starts off with a delicious cream of tomato soup with basil, all the tomatoes coming from Kate’s vegetable garden.
When guests book a meal at la Vielle Abbaye, they’re offed a few choices for each course but the pork tenderloin with cream and calvados is the most popular, Kate thinks because it incorporates some of the best Norman produce. The deliciously creamy tender pork is served alongside fresh vegetables from the garden and some delicious roast potatoes which Kate tells me are popular with both her French and English guests.
For a demo of how to make this delicious dish, watch the video below:
And then on to dessert… this was pure indulgence! One of the latest trends in Normandy restaurants is a “café gourmand.” The concept is simple; the torture of having to choose just one item of a dessert menu is overturned and instead you can sample a few mini sweet treats. Kate’s café gourmand included a home-made crème brulée, a mini meringue and a French flan – all sinfully good!
The following morning, once again I had the good fortune to enjoy some more breakfast cooking before hitting the road. Kate prepared one of her regular breakfast dishes – eggs à la Normande. She cracks a couple of eggs (laid by Cheryl the chicken) over lardons, adds home-made crème fraiche, a sprinkle of grated cheese, salt and pepper, and then pops it into the oven for ten minutes. This is definitely a recipe I’ll be taking home with me!
For more information on staying at La Vieille Abbaye and prices, click here.
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.