Travel writer Carolyn Boyd adds a Normandy flavour to lockdown…
After what feels like 2,358 days in lockdown, the chance to browse the stalls shaded by Deauville’s ancient timber-roofed market, or to sit on a café terrace on Honfleur’s harbour sipping a glass of local cider would be a welcome treat. But as travel remains ‘on hold’, recreating Normandy’s larder chez nous will have to fill the gap. Thankfully, much of Normandy’s cuisine is easy to achieve at home, with dishes such as Poulet Vallée d’Auge (chicken cooked in cider with cream) and the similar pork in cider recipe making for comforting evening meals.
Even the Normandy version of rice pudding – teurgoule – is achievable despite its lengthy cooking time; six hours in the oven seems a reasonable time to wait for the decadent dish, which if you’re embracing Normandy-at-home properly, should be served for breakfast. For dessert, the memory of chef Sebastien Boullay’s calvados soufflé lives long in my memory after a long and enticing lunch at his restaurant Etape Louis XVIII in Beaumesnil some years ago. Although dessert soufflés aren’t as difficult to achieve as some may think (the play ‘Abigail’s Party’ going some way in creating their risky reputation), being little more than a puff of butter, sugar and eggs. I haven’t yet worked up the courage to give it a try, though, just in case it doesn’t quite measure up to the memory of diving my spoon into its golden crown and being met with the heady plume of calvados-scented steam.
Lockdown has seen me explore France’s many cheeses from home (mainly via the shelves of Marks & Spencer); Normandy is known for its four main varieties, Pont l’Evêque, Livarot, Neufchâtel and Camembert. The latter is easy to find despite its home village deep down in the Orne being one of the tiniest villages I’ve visited in France, a surprise given how famous its cheese is.
Now the sun has come out, and picnics permitted under the lockdown rules, camembert slathered on bread or crackers is a lunchtime staple but the darker, early days of the lockdown proved the perfect time to try baking it in its box, laced with a splash of calvados and served with bread and cornichons – a soothing treat. I managed to find Neufchâtel hearts at my local cheesemonger (which delivers nationwide) and Pont l’Evêque at Sainsbury’s, but my search for Livarot has proved challenging, so I will have to wait until I’m back in Normandy to peruse the stalls of my favourite markets. As well as Deauville, those in Rouen and Bayeux are a joy to explore, as well as the tiny harbourside market that greeted us at dawn in Barfleur, just an hour after we rolled off the overnight ferry at Cherbourg.
For many, lockdown has meant raiding the drinks cabinet more frequently than usual, and certainly our own heure de l’apéro has crept ever earlier, especially with the promise of a Normandy gin and tonic on offer. Not to be outdone by the Brits’ love of the spirit, a number of distilleries have turned their hand to making Mother’s Ruin with excellent results, such as Christian Drouin inland from Deauville and C’est Nous from Caen. My favourite, though, is Normindia which is stocked by Masters of Malt (US readers may have to note it for when they return to France) and is made in a family-run distillery east of Avranches. It’s made in a calvados still, and with apple and orange among its 15 botanicals, it has a delicate fruity note and is wonderfully refreshing.
For a more traditional Normandy aperitif, the Kir Normand gets its intoxicating kick from a measure of both cassis and calvados with cider, and if that doesn’t get the Zoom quiz off to a good start, you could always try the lockdown version of the trou normand – each time you get a question wrong, down a shot of calvados. The hangover might not be pretty, but at least teurgoule rice pudding makes for a soothing breakfast (just be sure to make it in advance).
About our guest writer: Carolyn Boyd is a travel writer who contributes to national newspapers and magazines and has also written a cookbook, France from the Source. Visit francetraveller.co.uk to read more of her articles and to sign up for newsletters.
For information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourism website.
All photos © Calvados Tourisme unless otherwise stated | Text: Carolyn Boyd