Last year I travelled through Normandy with a group of Irish journalists to explore the region’s culinary highlights. We’d booked in for a cooking workshop at Wilde Kitchen, a cooking school run by Irish lass Sinéad, at la Blonderie, her home in the village of Benoistville.
We arrived on a Sunday evening and after checking into our rooms, we headed over to the main house for a supper of local Norman cheeses and delicious wine with our hosts, Sinéad and her Belgian husband, Philippe.
Over the course of the evening Sinéad and Phillippe, entertained us with stories of rural life in Normandy, local characters and the many culinary traditions on the Cotentin Peninsula.
The next morning we started our day bright and early with coffee and croissants before heading off to the market in the medieval town of Bricquebec. We hadn’t even left the car park before we stumbled across a sheep pen surrounded by farmers talking business – there was a real sense of a rural community here.
The market was small in comparison to other village markets but the produce was outstanding. A couple of old ladies were selling hens, a dairy stand was ladling out the richest crème fraîche from an old clay pot and huge bags laden with seasonal vegetables were going for a bargainous €5 a piece. Once we’d done the round and made our purchases, we stopped by a lady offering generous samples of her delicious homemade cakes and bought a bag before heading back to the kitchen.
Back at La Blonderie, Sinéad talked us through the menu and we each picked a course to prepare. As we peeled, chopped, mixed, and cooked the ingredients into our three-course feast, Sinéad flitted amongst us to offer tips and check our progress. A force of nature, this Irish lass has a good story for every occasion and had us laughing all morning. We stopped to sample some of her neighbour’s illicit 40% calvados followed by a local cidre fermier and merrily cooked and chatted as the kitchen filled with mouth-watering aromas.
A couple of hours in the kitchen whizzed by and it was soon time to sit down to eat. We were all impressed by how well each dish had turned out and how delicious it all was. I’d worked on a squash and vegetable soup served with andouille (chitterling sausage), crumbled chestnuts and a good dollop of crème fraîche. For the main course, Carolyn had expertly prepared cockerel cooked with apples, cider, calvados and cream whilst Liz had prepared a lentil casserole as a vegetarian option. For dessert, Ailish (who claimed she wasn’t much of a cake maker) pulled off a fabulous Normandy apple tart.
After a wonderful meal with our delightful hosts, Sinéad accompanied us to the nearby Ferme Auberge where François, a fellow foodie, runs a rustic restaurant.
François uses an authentic bread oven that dates back to 1789 to cook meat and teurgoule (Normandy rice pudding) that he serves at his restaurant. Sinéad has collaborated with Francois since she started her cooking school and when guests book in for the three-day course, they spend an afternoon at the Auberge, drinking cider and learning about the ancient bread oven whilst their meat is slow cooked.
Before we knew it, it was time to hit the road in search of more Normandy foodie delights. As we said goodbye to our hosts, it felt like we were leaving old friends – we would have to return again soon!
For more information on cooking workshops at the Wilde Kitchen, visit: www.wildekitchen.net
For information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.