Exactly 15km from its famous cousin Camembert, the village of Livarot has its own star: the Livarot cheese, which celebrates its 107th birthday this year.
Although Livarot is situated in the département of Calvados, oddly enough it was a farmer from the Orne, named Eugène Graindorge, who made the first Livarot cheese in 1910. The story goes that he started to develop his business by collecting milk and cheese from his neighbours and maturing them in the small village of Livarot. Later, his son Bernard helped expand the Graindorge dairy so much between 1940 and 1980 that Livarot cheese started to appear on the menu in Parisian restaurants. Nowadays, Eugène’s grandson is in charge of the Graindorge Family Dairy and still makes cheese that has been granted Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) status.
Now, you probably already know that French people love and respect their cheeses. But did you know that Livarot is nicknamed the Colonel Cheese?
I know what you’re thinking: Don’t make such a big deal out of it, it’s just cheese! (or should I say n’en fais pas tout un fromage!) But this nickname in fact comes from the initial way in which this cheese was made.
You may have noticed the ridges on the sides of this orange cheese. These are prints made by the sedge leaves (usually three or five) used to hold the cheese together during the maturing process and maintain its shape. And that’s why the French call Livarot cheese the Colonel – its markings look like the stripes on a military uniform!
If you want to enjoy a good AOC Livarot cheese, I really recommend that you go to the Livarot Cheese Fair. This year’s event takes place this weekend on 5 and 6 August, and it’s well worth a visit. Last year, I was lucky enough to go, and let me tell you, I never tired of walking through the picturesque village streets, enjoying the aromas of cheese, cider and grilled meat! Luckily, it’s not an option to refuse free samples from local producers (after all, I don’t want to be rude), especially when those samples are French cheese!
The Livarot Cheese Fair typically starts with everyone having a drink together, followed by cookery lessons using Norman cheeses (you can find a nice recipe below). This year marks the 30th anniversary of the fair, and to celebrate the occasion, there will be a parade, complete with brass band. There will also be the famous Livarot eating contest on Sunday morning, surely my favourite bit of the fair! The goal is to eat a 750g Livarot cheese as quickly as possible. The record, set in 2012, is 1 minute and 51 seconds. If you’re at the fair this weekend, why not give it a go?
With so much food for thought, you won’t be leaving the Livarot Cheese Fair empty-handed, so here’s one of my favourite easy cheesey recipes for you to try with your own Livarot:
Egg cocotte with Livarot and pumpkin
- 100g Livarot cheese
- 4 eggs
- 20cl single cream
- 100g diced pumpkin
- 1 packet of lardons
- butter (for greasing)
- salt and pepper
- Dice the pumpkin and boil in 20cl salted water
- Once cooked, drain half of the liquid and mix the diced pumpkin and the single cream into the remaining liquid
- Preheat oven to 150°C
- Fry up the lardons
- Grease four ramekin dishes (or similar) with butter
- Pour the pumpkin and cream mixture into the ramekins
- Add the fried lardons and nutmeg, and season to taste with salt and pepper (bearing in mind that the lardons are salty)
- Break an egg into each ramekin and add the diced Livarot (no rind)
- Place the four ramekin dishes in a shallow pan of warm water (a bain-marie) and cook in the oven for 8-10 minutes
The Graindorge Family Dairy is open Monday to Saturday from January to October (for exact times, refer to the Graindorge website) and runs guided tours and tastings for €3.30 per person.
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.
Cover photo: © E. Graindorge | Text: Marie Buchet