I’ve always had a soft spot for Normandy cattle with their distinctive brown and white markings and eyes like liquid chocolate. But as I walk into the yard of the Ferme Lévêque near Neufchâtel-en-Bray in the Seine-Maritime département, I can’t help feeling I’m in the presence of bovine royalty.
Normandy cattle provide milk for the region’s four AOC cheeses that include Camembert, Pont-l’Evêque, and Livarot, but around Valentine’s Day, it’s Neufchâtel which takes pride of place. After all, how more romantic can you get than a heart-shaped cheese?
This iconic local delicacy is produced at a number of family farms around the town of Neufchâtel in the Pays de Bray. Here at Bailleul Neuville, Marie Lévêque and her father milk their 160 cattle twice daily, making around 1,500 cheeses a week from the early morning milk, and crème fraîche from the evening yield.
Whenever you’re feeling romantic, Normandy can provide delicious local ingredients that add maximum flavour with minimum food miles to your special meal, whether you’re self-catering or dining out. Oysters are a popular starter, reputed to have aphrodisiac qualities, and Normandy’s are some of the world’s finest. Not to your taste? Port-en-Bessin on the Calvados coast is France’s leading scallop-fishing port. Or try juicy prawns and langoustines from the region’s offshore waters, delicious with fresh crusty bread and local butter. You’ll find creamy beurre d’Isigny from the Manche/Calvados border in fine restaurants around the world.
Between October and February, AOC salt marsh lamb makes a delicious main course, raised around the Bay of the Mont-Saint-Michel on coastal pastures covered by the spring tides. Pré-salé lambs from the Manche graze for around three months on this unique vegetation which gives the succulent meat an aromatic flavour all of its own. Or maybe serve a fillet of delicate white fish in a Normandy butter sauce.
Orchard fruit is big business here especially in Calvados and Orne. From April to October, you can find out about traditional varieties of both apples and pears at the Maison de la Pomme et de la Poire at Barenton in the Normandie-Maine Regional Natural Park. Or perhaps follow the Fruit Route which hugs the meanders of the Seine Valley west of Rouen, particularly beautiful when the orchards are heavy with spring blossom or laden with late summer fruit. My favourite Valentine’s pud has to be tarte tatin, a wafer thin tart with a scrumptious caramel topping, and perhaps a scoop or two of apple sorbet on the side.
And to accompany your authentic Norman feast, pour a glass of farm-produced cider or apple juice. Meet the producers along the Cider Route which winds through Cambremer in the Pays d’Auge, and stock up at farm shop prices – not just on cider and juice, but on Pommeau aperitif and the area’s signature digestif, AOC Calvados.
And if you still have room for breakfast the next morning, spread a little happiness on your toast with some confiture de lait– a delicious caramel spread made from sugar and, you guessed it, that famous Normandy milk!
About our guest writer: Gillian Thornton is widely known in the travel journalism industry as a France specialist. Particular interests include gastronomy, history, heritage, walking, nature and wildlife. Regular commissions include Women’s Weekly, The People’s Friend, France Today, Voyage and Silver Travel Advisor. To read more of Gillian’s work, visit her website.
For information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourism website.
Cover photo © D. Dumas / Normandy Tourism | Text © Gillian Thornton