To mark International Women’s Day, today’s post is dedicated to one of the few female cider and Calvados producers in Normandy to single-handedly run their own farm and distillery: Marie-Agnès Hérout.
I first met Marie-Agnès on a cycling group press trip last September, when she welcomed myself, fellow journalists Clive and Mel, and Fran from the Normandy Tourist Board, to her farm on a sunny Sunday afternoon for a tour and tasting.
I was thoroughly looking forward to visiting an authentic cider farm and Calvados distillery to taste the tipples that Normandy is so famous for. The Hérout family farm, near Carentan in the Manche département, was the perfect venue.
We parked our bikes adjacent to a piece of machinery straight out of ‘Wallace and Gromit’, which I originally thought was an old exhibit of some kind, and were greeted by a friendly Marie-Agnès, who magically appeared out of nowhere and beckoned us into the farmhouse building.
The farm has been producing cider since 1946, when Marie-Agnès’s parents, Auguste and Marie-Thérèsen Hérout decided to follow the family’s cider tradition. Auguste’s father had sold cider and Marie-Thérèsen’s father had traded cider at the port of Cherbourg on the Cotentin peninsula. In true Norman tradition, the farm is still in the hands of the family, with the lovely Marie-Agnès now at the helm.
The business grew and the family renewed their apple trees to grow traditional varieties of the Cotentin apple. Later, in the 1970s, the family concentrated on gaining an organic certification. Their efforts were soon rewarded, and the Hérout farm now offers officially recognised quality-controlled products with the coveted appellation d’origine controlée [protected designation of origin] and agriculture biologique [organic farming] labels.
After we all introduced ourselves, Marie-Agnès gave us the grand tour of the farm. We soon learnt that the ‘Wallace and Gromit machine’ was actually a still used to produce Calvados, and was still in regular use! In fact, 90% of the equipment on Marie-Agnès’s farm was original, including the hand-operated press.
It was fascinating to discover how both cider and Calvados were produced on-site, and to learn how Marie-Agnès is keeping the family’s values alive by planting new trees, even though she admits she will never taste the cider or Calvados from her investment in her lifetime.
We also learnt that Marie-Agnès’s products are soon to be issued with the appellation d’origine protégée label, recognised across the EU, which will officially acknowledge the natural fermentation method and the secondary natural fermentation in her bottled cider.
‘The vocation of a bottle is to be drunk’
True to the values of slow tourism, our visit to the Hérout farm concluded with a fully comprehensive tasting session. I soon discovered the difference between dry and sweet cider and, best of all, the difference between Calvados of various vintages.
Before we headed off, I asked Marie-Agnès how long a bottle of cider or Calvados would keep, to which Marie-Agnès gave a lovely reply: ‘The vocation of a bottle is to be drunk.’ A saying that will remain with me forever!
Marie-Agnès is happy to welcome visitors on appointment, so do stop by the Hérout farm if you’re inspired by her story and want to know more about cider and Calvados! Visit the Hérout website for opening times and more information on the farm.
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.
Text and all photos unless otherwise stated © Keith Gilks