Normandy is justifiably famous for its apples – whether you sip a heady calvados, swig a glass of formidable cider or devour a sweet apple tart, there are myriad ways to enjoy them – but beyond the orchards, the region has a variety of other products to try.
The jaw-dropping Bénédictine Palace in Fécamp in Normandy tells the fascinating story of this herbal liqueur. A blend of 27 different plants and spices, including cloves and juniper, it is best known for its part in such cocktails as the Singapore Sling, Bobby Burns, and Milk and Honey. But this unique drink dates from long before mixologists were reaching for the famous brown bottle with its wax seal. Bénédictine began its story as a herbal elixir developed by 16th-century monks in Normandy. The recipe was lost during the French Revolution and, in 1863, wine merchant and art collector Alexandre Le Grand rediscovered the recipe among his collection of antique books. He then set about reconstructing the drink, which was and is still enjoyed as a digestif. The drink became so successful that Le Grand built the extraordinary Bénédictine Palace in Fecamp, Normandy, where the drink is still made today.
Rice pudding is found in many regions and countries of the world, but few versions entail the dedication required for making Normandy’s own specialty, la teurgoule. Using the region’s delectable dairy products, the dish’s preparation is simple but patience is required – it needs six hours in the oven. Once cooked, those tucking in too soon will demonstrate the dish’s name: teurgoule is the word for the twisted face you pull when you burn your mouth. Traditionally, it was taken to sea by Normandy’s sailors – the thick golden skin that forms on its surface kept it fresh for days, while the fortifying calories ensured they were well fed for hours. These days it is often served at breakfast, just sprinkle with cinnamon for extra flavour.
Those treading the path of pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela will be familiar with the shape of the cockle shell, or coquille Saint-Jacques in French, but unless you’re one of the rare pilgrims to set off on the Camino from the Mont-Saint-Michel, those found in Normandy are as a result of the scallop fishing on the coast at Port-en-Bessin. These delectable and slightly sweet shellfish are celebrated each November at Le Goût du Large festival (9-10 November 2019) which sees around 50,000 visitors each year enjoying the scallop dishes, music, street entertainment and dedicated restaurant menus.
The Andaine forest around Bagnoles-de-l’Orne, in the south of the region, are the perfect hunting ground for mushrooms and chef Franck Quinton is something of an expert in finding them. Quinton is the co-owner of Manoir du Lys, and his cuisine celebrates the many mushrooms available from the forest. Autumn is, as you would expect, the best time to go foraging for fungi and visitors can join one of Quinton’s many mushroom workshops. Join him to collect them, then discover how to cook everything you find, be it ceps, boletus, milk-caps and chanterelles.
British chefs are relatively new to the yuzu party, but French chefs have been cooking with this Japanese citrus fruit, which has a taste somewhere between grapefruit, bergamot and mandarin, for years. In Normandy, saffron farmer Pascal Guérard imported ten yuzu trees from Japan a few years ago and supplies chefs such as Julien and Masako Guérard at the Manoir de la Pommeraie at Roullours near Vire and chef Arnaud Viel at La Renaissance in Argentan. You can also visit the Guerards’ farm itself between Falaise and La Hoguette.
Carolyn Boyd is a writer and editor specialising in France. Visit her website at carolynboyd.net for further articles and recommendations.
For information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourism website.
Cover photo © Palais Bénédictine | Text © C. Boyd