Apple, cider and cheese, what more do you need?

Autumn in Normandy means food festivals galore. As one of France’s biggest apple-growing regions, there are apple festivals across the region almost every weekend in September and October! Last September, I accompanied a journalist on a trip to research the traditions behind Normandy’s ubiquitous apple. Our travel plans happily coincided with the popular Fête de la Pomme, du Cidre et du Fromage [Apple, Cider and Cheese Festival] in the pretty town of Conches-en-Ouches, so we decided to stop by.

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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches

It was a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon and as we arrived in Conches, we realised that the word was out – cars were parked on every spare bit of pavement. After circling the main town square several times, we found a parking place and then followed the crowd. After descending a winding flight of stairs to the bottom of the valley, we arrived at the festival. The event takes place in a huge park that was bathed in sunshine. Hundreds of people had gathered and there was a sense of festivity in the air and, of course, apples everywhere.

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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches
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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches

We grabbed a cup of delicious apple juice and wandered on, before coming across a stage where traditional dances were being performed in traditional Norman costume. Between the dances, a presenter was talking the spectators through the different outfits, much to everyone’s amusement.

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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches

We moved on to the market stalls to browse the fabulous fare from producers who had come to Conches from all across the region. I spotted a couple of people whom I had already met, including Patricia of Les Saveurs Retrouvées, who had by now sold the vast majority of her macaroons, and the Cidre de Glace stall was doing a roaring trade. I also recognised the familiar faces, or fabulous costumes rather, of the Confrèrie des Goustes, aka the apple pastry brotherhood.

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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches

As we left the park, queues were beginning to form next to the food stalls and the vast seating area, bathed in autumnal sunshine, was packed. There was a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, as families chattered over a cider and some cheese and foodies caught up on the latest culinary innovations from the region. All in all, it was the perfect food festival and we wished we didn’t have to leave so soon, but we knew that as we were in Normandy, another appley adventure was sure to be waiting for us just around the corner!

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The Fête de la Pomme, du Cidre et du Fromage takes place on Sunday 29th October this year so be sure to stop off if you’re over in Normandy for half-term! For more information on food festivals in the region, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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Cover photo © philipimage / Fotolia.com | Writer: Maggie McNulty

The Fête du Ventre, Rouen’s biggest food festival

Every October, one of the biggest farmers’ markets you can possibly imagine, arrives in Rouen for the Fête du Ventre et de la Gastronomie Normande [Festival of the Stomach and Norman Gastronomy]. As the name would suggest, this two-day festival is a foodie mecca, with hundreds of producers from across Normandy setting up stalls in and around Rouen’s Place du Vieux Marché. Thousands gather in Rouen for the occasion – in 2015, the event attracted some 150,000 people – so you can imagine the buzzy festive atmosphere!

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© Philippe Deneufve

A large part of the old town is completely cut off to traffic and row after row of beautifully presented stalls sell a huge variety of produce. I visited Rouen last year to join in the fun and spent a fabulous few hours browsing, chatting to producers, sampling their wares and stocking up on some of the best foodie products from the region.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board
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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

En route, I passed street performers and a procession of small ponies touring children through the back streets of the city. There was a huge range of produce, from fruit and vegetables to snails, jars of duck confit and even wild boar.

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© Andrea Solter

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

I then popped into the tent for a quick culinary demonstration. Here, chefs from some of the Rouen’s top restaurants prepared local specialties in front of a packed audience eager to learn new tips and watch the masters at work. When I headed back into the thick of the action, there was a group of people dressed in period costume dancing outside the church of Joan of Arc on the Place du Vieux Marché.

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© Philippe Deneufve

I wandered back through the crowds and turned a corner to hear a group of musicians, dressed in animal onesies play jazz numbers that had everyone clapping and dancing along. Finally, once I’d done various rounds of the stalls, sampled my fair share of food and bought treats for everyone back home, it was time to park up outside a café, sit back and enjoy some people-watching!

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For more information on food and drink in Normandy, please visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

Cover photo © Philippe Deneufve | Writer: Maggie McNulty

 

 

 

10 reasons we can’t wait for All the Sea on a Plate

1. The Toute la Mer sur un Plateau [All the Sea on a Plate] festival takes place on the port of Granville, meaning that you can pretty much eat fresh fish and seafood straight off the fishing boats…

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© M. Coupard / Fotolia

2. Granville is France’s number 1 shellfish port, so if anyone can put on a cracking shellfish-themed festival, it’s certainly this town!

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3. Last year, no fewer than 50,000 people flooded into Granville for this popular festival – we reckon that’s an endorsement if any.

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4. Several tons of oysters, scallops, mussels, shrimps, whelks and lobsters are caught and brought into Granville for the festival, where visitors can then enjoy them with a refreshing glass of kir.

5. All the Sea on a Plate attracts not just Frenchies, but people hailing from all over the place (including my three journalists and me!) so the event has a real cosmopolitan feel to it.

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6. Live music will be played all weekend right on the quais, so why not enjoy a jog to a sea shanty or two?

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© Pierre Jeanson

7. Also on the agenda are cooking workshops, a food market, tastings, activities for children, film screenings and an exhibition that looks into the life of a fisherman.

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8. Around the harbour is an assortiment of restaurants and food stalls, so visitors can dine al fresco and look out over the picturesque port, whether from a terrasse or one of the many benches set up especially for the festival.

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9. In addition to all the fab food on offer, you can also peruse the many wine, clothes and arts and crafts stalls, and take back home some souvenirs of Granville.

10. You could even make the most of your stay by visiting the Christian Dior Museum, which is currently hosting an exhibition dedicated to the famous designer’s childhood in Granville and his 22 post-war collections.

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

‘All the Sea on a Plate’ takes place on Saturday 30th September and Sunday 1st October. For more information, visit the Granville Terre & Mer website.

For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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All photos © Normandy Tourist Board unless otherwise stated | Cover photo © Kevin14 / Fotolia | Writer: Fran Lambert

Foraging for mushrooms in the Orne

The prize: the Cèpe d’or, or rather, the Golden Porcini mushroom in English, though that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it… No, this particular mushroom is not edible, but you can win it at the Mycologiades Internationals, the International Wild Mushroom Festival, which takes place at the end of September in the village of Bellême, the home of all things mushroom in Normandy.

Often in autumn, I’m stuck for ideas on what to do – winter’s on its way, and the bad weather with it. Of course, it is apple season in Normandy but I’m looking for other fresh foodie ideas. Why not mushrooms? I can already picture the colours of the forest and hear the crunch of leaves under my feet!

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© J. E. Rubio / Normandy Tourist Board

Since 1953, the International Wild Mushroom Festival in the Perche Regional Natural Park has been welcoming visitors on a mushroom foraging quest led by a mycologist (that’s a mushroom expert to you and me). So it was that my friend and I took a basket one Sunday last autumn and played Little Red Riding Hood for the weekend. After the mushroom foraging, all of our foodie treasures were laid out and we were given a presentation on all of the different mushrooms that we had found. Alas, our efforts were not quite enough to win us the coveted Golden Porcini, but we were proud of ourselves, and now felt far more confident about telling the difference between edible and poisonous mushrooms!

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© J. E. Rubio / Normandy Tourist Board

I could well have enjoyed eating some tasty mushrooms at the festival but there was a nearby mushroom hot-spot that I wanted to try whilst I was in the Perche: La Tête Noire restaurant in the nearby village of Saint-Germain-de-la-Coudre. Only 15 minutes from the International Wild Mushroom Festival, La Tête Noire offers an intimate, buzzy atmosphere and serves fresh food sourced from local artisan producers. In keeping with the theme of the day, I opted for the restaurant’s speciality: soft-boiled eggs with fried wild mushrooms. Yum yum, it tasted like grandma’s homemade cooking and gave a real taste of Perche terroir.

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© J. E. Rubio / Normandy Tourist Board

At the end of our dinner, the waitress passed our table with some mouth-watering dauphinois potatoes with mushrooms and Normandy cream – it smelt irresistible! When I saw the couple who had ordered it enjoying their meal, I knew I should not miss out on this experience – that’s what I’ll be ordering next time! One strawberry baba dessert later, I left the restaurant, pleasantly full and satisfied with my lot, readier than ever to face the coming week.

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© Joe Gough

This year, the International Wild Mushroom Festival takes place from 28 September to 1 October, and offers all sorts of fun mushroomy activities like exhibitions, seminars, and of course the Cèpe d’or competition! If you are interested in taking part in this foraging extravaganza, visit the website to sign up: www.mycologiades.com (website in French only).

Alternatively, if you fancied an autumn ramble in the forest and a leisurely lunch at La Tête Noire, why not browse the Perche Regional Natural Park website for walking routes and book a table? Bon appétit!

For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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Cover photo © J. E. Rubio / Normandy Tourist Board | Writer: Marie Buchet

A pinch of Normandy saffron

Trug basket in hand, Myriam Duteuil carefully scans her saffron beds, assessing which of the crocus blooms are ready for harvesting. She carefully picks flowers that pass muster, taking care not to remove leaves with them as that can damage the bulb (or corm) beneath. Each flower yields just three of the precious red stigmas that are extracted and dried to make saffron strands.

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

This precision method of harvesting, hard on the knees and back and unchanged from images on Minoan frescoes from 3,500BC, combined with a regular cycle of replanting each summer to ensure a steady supply of flowers, and the need to plant and weed by hand, helps to explain why the ‘spice of joy’ costs more than gold.

None of this deterred Myriam – the daughter and grand-daughter of farmers – when she decided to return to her roots and grow apples and saffron organically at the Domaine de Gauville, in St-Pierre de Salerne, south-west of Rouen.

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© William Crossley

She bought the farmstead a decade ago, while working as a TV executive in Paris. During a long broadcasting career she devised and then ran Cuisine TV, France’s main food channel, but six years ago decided to change tack. ‘Saffron has an exotic image,’ says Myriam. ‘Most of the world’s supply comes from Iran, but it really needs cool, moist conditions to grow well. The ideal temperature is about 15°C, so Normandy is a good place for it.’

Saffron was widely grown across Europe in the Middle Ages, when it was prized for its medicinal qualities. The East of England was a key centre for production and the flower gave its name to the Essex town of Saffron Walden.

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

Myriam planted 21,000 bulbs in 1.2 hectares of beds in 2012, gathering her first harvest in 2015, and plans to expand the area she cultivates to two hectares. The saffron crocus blooms in autumn, with the harvesting period lasting about four weeks, usually in October. ‘I pick in the early morning, before the flowers open,’ says Myriam. ‘A skilled picker can collect 1,000 flowers in an hour, which will produce 5g of saffron. I dry the flowers and then open them to extract the stigmas.’

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

Her harvest yields about 700g of saffron a year. A kilogram is worth about £25,000. Total annual production in France is 150kg, a figure that pales by comparison with the 30 tonnes a year produced before the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century.

Myriam sells her saffron packaged as strands for both professional chefs and home cooks to use in their dishes, along with a range of saffron-flavoured preserves, biscuits, cake, mustard and vinegar under her Biâo Pur Safran de Normandie brand (Biâo is the Norman dialect word for beautiful). Another customer is a local dairy, which makes delicately-flavoured saffron ice cream.

She is keen to encourage people to make more use of saffron in their cooking: ‘It used to be used by so many people in everyday recipes, but now in France it is mostly used by chefs or in seasonal foods for Christmas, particularly in Normandy.’

Her top tip when buying saffron is to look for strands that are deep red in colour. If it looks brown or yellowy it has been over-dried or is too old to use, or may have been adulterated.

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

Myriam emphasises saffron’s versatility in the kitchen, for everything from a Moroccan-style morning tea infusion using a single strand, to a risotto, paella or a sweet apple cake. She recommends three strands per person in a sweet dish, six per person in a savoury dish and nine per person in a paella or with shellfish.

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© William Crossley

She adds: ‘As well as using the right amount, saffron should always be infused in a liquid before it is used in a dish – water, stock, milk or cream – and added five to 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time to add flavour. If you are making risotto, put the saffron in some stock the night before. Rehydrating dried saffron liberates the flavour and colour.’

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

For those keen to learn more, Myriam runs two-day cookery classes in a professional-standard kitchen at the farm, including visits from local chefs and bakers, with accommodation provided in the farmhouse, which can also be rented as a gîte. You could even help out with this year’s harvest, but book soon to avoid disappointment!

For more information about the Domaine de Gauville and Biâo Safran de Normandie, visit the Domaine de Gauville website (in French). For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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This copy has been reproduced courtesy of the Oxford Times.

Cover photo © Normandy Tourist Board | Writer: William Crossley

 

 

5 food festivals to feast on this autumn

Normandy is a food lover’s paradise, particularly in autumn, so why not hop across the Channel and visit some of the foodie festivals taking place across the region? From cheese and seafood to the iconic apple, here is our pick of 5 Norman festivals not to be missed this year:

1) 17-18 September: Fête du Fromage (Neufchâtel-en-Bray)

Neufchâtel is the oldest of Normandy’s four cheeses and is easy to identify – it’s the heart-shaped one! Legend has it that during the Hundred Years War between France and England, Norman girls would give English soldiers Neufchâtel as a token of their affection. To celebrate their rich, creamy cheese, the town of Neufchâtel-en-Bray, 45 minutes inland from the port of Dieppe, created its very own cheese festival. The event makes for a fun day out where the family can pick up Neufchâtel recipes, go for a tasting or two, buy local products at the market and enjoy entertainment galore. There will also be a Neufchâtel‑themed evening meal followed by music and dancing.

For more information, visit: bit.ly/NeufchatelFeteDuFromage (French)

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© Hemis Corbis / Fotolia

2) 20-22 October: Festival Mange Ta Soupe! (Carentan)

The French truly have a festival for most types of food, and Mange ta soupe! [Eat your soup!] festival is surely proof of that. Situated in Carentan, an hour’s drive from the port of Cherbourg, this festival has got soup enjoyment down to a fine art. Boasting a soup bar, cooking lessons, local producers’ market, car boot sale, book fair, live music, fireworks display and the all‑important soup contest, this festival will give you a warm feeling inside.

For more information, visit: www.mangetasoupe.eu (French)

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© Festival Mange ta Soupe !

3) 28-29 October: Fête de la Coquille Saint-Jacques et des Fruits de Mer (Villers‑sur‑Mer) 

Seafood fans won’t want to miss Viller-sur-Mer’s annual Scallop and Seafood Festival, which takes place a mere 20-minute drive along the coast east of Ouistreham. Enjoy a day at the seaside with a difference, tasting and learning about seafood, in particular the town’s renowned coquilles Saint-Jacques [scallops] from the region’s leading chefs. Stroll through market stalls run by local fishermen selling their wares, listen to live music and entertainment for all the family, and pick up tasty local products to take home.

For more information, visit: bit.ly/VillersFeteDeLaCoquilleSaintJacques

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© Normandy Tourist Board

4) 11 November: Foire aux Harengs (Lieurey)

An hour’s drive inland from the port of Le Havre, Lieurey welcomes 10,000 visitors each year to its popular herring fair. This tradition dates back to the 15th century when merchants delivering herrings to soldiers stopped in the village during a snowstorm, and decided to sell the fish to the villagers so it wouldn’t go to waste. Every year, horse‑drawn carriages bring kilos of herring to Lieurey to commemorate what happened centuries ago. Activities include a herring contest, stalls selling herring‑themed treats, cooking demonstrations, family rides in a horse-drawn carriage and pony rides for the children.

For more information, visit: bit.ly/LieureyFoireAuxHarengs (French)

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© Mairie de Lieurey

5) 11-12 November: Fête du cidre à l’ancienne (Le Sap)

An hour south of Ouistreham, the village of Le Sap’s annual cider festival celebrates the ancient art of cider making and the traditional practice of using a working horse to power the apple press, demonstrations of which take place at regular times over the two days. There’s a great atmosphere, with music, dancing, pony rides for the children, and market stalls selling local products. In addition to your freshly pressed cider, you can also enjoy a baguette with your favourite Norman cheese or an apple tart.

For more information, visit: bit.ly/LeSapFeteDuCidre

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© Normandy Tourist Board

For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

Cover photo: © Philipimage / Fotolia.com | Writer: Fran Lambert

Happiness at Le Bréard in Honfleur

Many casual visitors to Honfleur congregate on the restaurant terraces around the picturesque Vieux Bassin. You can’t blame them for soaking up that glorious view, but take the trouble to explore the narrow streets that lead gently uphill behind the wooden church of St Catherine and you could be in for a treat, especially if you’re lucky enough to bag a table at Le Bréard at 7 rue du Puits.

Billed simply as a ‘Restaurant Gastronomique, Le Bréard’s motto translates as ‘Gastronomy is the art of using food to create happiness.’ And what happiness! Read the menu beside the door and it’s impossible to imagine the subtle flavours and creativity that chef Fabrice Sébire puts into every dish, a fusion of French and Oriental cuisine.

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur / Honfleur Tourist Office
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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

Local lad Fabrice trained in Caen before working under some of the top chefs in Paris, but he has also been heavily influenced by time spent in Japan. In 2004, Fabrice and his wife Karine – who manages front-of-house – took over Le Bréard and made it their own. Today it is one of the must-try restaurants in Honfleur.

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

The décor is elegant but understated, decorated with soothing, natural colours, but this is an address where all are welcome. A French family with two impeccably behaved small boys ate dinner at the next table to us and we could hear the odd contented gurgle from a baby beyond the partition wall, whilst a solo American businessman tucked in at a nearby table.

Seasonal local produce features prominently on Le Bréard’s menu, which offers sufficient variety without being overwhelming, and spices and textures make every course into a treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Menus are priced at 32 euros for three courses and 48 or 58 for four, with amuse-bouche and gourmandises included.

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur
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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

I began with salmon with beetroot and radishes a delicate balance of flavours which complemented each other perfectly. To follow, I couldn’t resist the breast of guinea fowl served on a bed of Chinese cabbage and bacon, with vegetable ravioli and ginger – a thoroughly good choice. And after the cheese plate, my hot passion fruit soufflé proved a dream dessert, fluffy and flavourful with a delightful hint of decadence.

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur / Honfleur Tourist Office

Le Bréard is closed all day on Monday, as well as lunchtimes from Tuesday to Thursday. Every table was taken when we visited on a Thursday evening, so it clearly pays to book ahead – it would be a real shame to miss out on such satisfying but subtle food!

For more details on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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Cover photo © Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur | Writer: Gillian Thornton

Eat like a king at the Étape Louis XIII

I love a good restaurant recommendation, especially when it comes from a local. I was planning a trip deep into rural Normandy in search of a new Norman foodie trend – red flesh apples – and needed a stop for lunch. My local partner Capucine suggested the restaurant Etape Louis XIII in the village of Beaumesnil, approximately halfway between Lisieux and Bernay. Chef Sébastien is part of a chef’s association, the Toques Normandes, who are passionate about working with Norman produce and exist to promote Norman cuisine.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

No sooner do I arrive in the village when I round a corner and am suddenly awe-struck by the magnificent Château de Beaumesnil. It may be lunchtime but I have to stop for a photo.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

I see a sign for a potager (kitchen garden to you and me) just down a path from the entrance to the chateau so I go to have a look. I learn later that they grow over 500 varieties of vegetables here, including some that are near extinction, and they host a vegetable festival every September.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

Back in the car and in no time at all, I pass through the main hub of the village, and arrive at my destination. I park up and walk through a beautifully kept garden to reach a very pretty traditional Norman building with half-timbered façades and geraniums spilling out of the window boxes. The building dates from 1612 and was originally intended as a rectory – I then realise that the name alludes to this building dating to the reign of Louis XIII!

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

I step through the front door into a dimly lit wood-paneled entrance hall and am greeted by the lovely Aurélie, who ushers me into the dining room. A huge fire place dominates the room and acts as a divider between what must once have been two smaller rooms. The fire is lit and the room is cosy and intimate with a touch of sophistication.

There’s a very calm atmosphere as classical music plays gently in the background and the restaurant’s diners have hushed conversations across tables.  The service is equally discreet and attentive.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

There’s a good selection on the menu and the starters and deserts feature quite a few French and Norman classics with a bit of a twist. For starters there are warm oysters with Camembert, Saint-Jacques scallops or Andouille tart with apples and creamy Pommeau sauce, home-made foie gras on toast with a cinnamon biscuit.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

I go straight in for the main and choose the plat du jour: salmon with a carrot purée and seasonal vegetables. It is deliciously tender and I detect cumin, a squeeze of orange and a garnish of fennel that liven the accompanying vegetables. It’s rich, flavoursome and just the right amount.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

I would have been more than satisfied to stop there but when I declined a desert, the gentleman on the table next to me intervened and said that I couldn’t leave the restaurant without trying the calvados soufflé – he always orders two! My arm is sufficiently twisted…

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

Wow! I’ve tried calvados is a few culinary forms but this by far tops them all. It’s light, fluffy, melts in your mouth and emits a heavenly aroma. When I meet Chef Sébastien after my meal he tells me that when he took over the restaurant a few years ago, he learnt this recipe from his predecessor as it was a firm favourite with previous clients.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

So there you have it, the Etape Louis XIII is well worth the journey, if only for the calvados soufflé! I expect you’ll be won over with the rest of the menu too. Two courses are priced at €25 and three are €33. Given the quality of my meal, this strikes me as excellent value.  L’Etape Louis XIII is open for lunch and dinner every day except for Tuesday and Monday evenings. And while you’re there, why not pop by the Château de Beaumesnil? It’s known locally as the little Versailles and with its beautiful gardens, it’s well worth a visit.

For more details on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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Cover photo © M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board | Writer: Maggie McNulty

 

The Tale of the Norman Ale

If you thought that Normandy was all about cider and calvados, then think again! Following the national trend for craft beer, the region has seen several new brands launch in recent years, the most emblematic of which being La MIN (Made In Normandy). With its retro look and its logo representing the Mont-Saint-Michel, it has a real Norman feel to it and is starting to trend in Parisian bars and hip grocery stores.

The story began just two years ago, when childhood friends Julien, Alexandre, Jocelyn and Cédric decided to create a beer that honoured their roots. The bunch grew up in Yvetot, at the heart of the Pays de Caux, a town they still call home despite living and working in Paris now. Whilst travelling around Europe during their studies, they noticed that they were always offered local craft beers in the bars and pubs they visited – something they didn’t encounter much at home. Back in France, they contemplated collaborating on their own ale, and after several months of planning, paperwork and development, La MIN was born.

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© La MIN

What took the boys the most time was trying to get the taste just right. They managed to give the beer a very distinct and individual character, with a clear amber-golden colour and earthy, musty aromas complete with hints of citrus and honey. It comes with an ABV of 6.5% and is neither filtered nor pasteurised. La MIN is currently brewed at the Brasserie De Sutter in Gisors, a small town in the Eure region, but the four friends have big plans for the future. They are planning on buying a spacious farmhouse near Yvetot, in which their own brewery will be built. They will then be able to control the entire production chain, increase volumes and expand business activities.

La MIN is already served from the tap in several Parisian bars and is of course available in numerous cafés, pubs, clubs and grocery stores across Normandy, as well as in Intermarché supermarkets. A great place to get your hands on the brew is at the Fête du Ventre, one of Normandy’s main food festivals, held every October in Rouen. The boys run a stand there each year and serve thirsty customers hundreds of litres of their beer.

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© La MIN

After satisfying the French taste buds, Julien, Alexandre, Jocelyn and Cédric are now hoping to introduce their unique Norman ale to the UK, where demand for new craft beers is high. Keep an eye out for the bottle on the shelves at your local!

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© La MIN

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For information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

La Ferme des Isles, accommodation in the heart of Impressionist Normandy

When property developers Sophie and François viewed a run-down farm in the Eure region of Normandy, they had no intention of leaving their life in Paris for a move to the country. They had come to view the property for commercial reasons but from the moment they arrived, the farm worked its magic on them. It was love at first sight and this chance viewing changed their lives completely.

That was in 2010. After close to two years of renovations they opened the doors to their beautiful B&B in 2012. I was lucky enough to stay and join them last year for one of François’s famously good dinners. Situated on the banks of the Eure River, La Ferme des Isles lies deep in the heart of Normandy’s Impressionist country.

When they bought the property, Sophie told me that the 19 acres of grounds were completely overrun and hadn’t been used as a farm for nearly 50 years. The three buildings – the farmhouse, an old barn and an ancient bread oven – were also in a state of disrepair. Sophie and François could see huge potential with the buildings and they dreamt of transforming the grounds back into a small holding.

Just a few years on, mission accomplished. The farmhouse has been tastefully restored and the barn has been transformed into a spectacular conversion with three guest bedrooms housed around an immense central space that boasts floor to ceiling windows overlooking the pastures and decorative kitchen garden at the front of the property.

I stayed in the spectacular Sun Suite – named after the original headboard that Sophie’s designer daughter and her friends created one weekend when they came across reclaimed wood at antique dealers. Throughout, the rooms are decorated with antique furniture and are very tastefully styled.

Sophie and François wanted to reinstate the farm, create a kitchen garden, grow fruit trees and reintroduce animals. Today they keep geese, ducks, chickens, doves, sheep, goats, donkeys, cats and dogs. François keeps a huge vegetable plot at the back of the property and a more decorative one at the front. The fruit and vegetables he grows inspire his table d’hôtes and ensure that fresh organic produce is always on the table.

When it was time for dinner, I headed over to the main farmhouse and joined Sophie and another couple who were staying at the B&B for an aperitif around the fire. Sophie and Francois are fantastic hosts and take great pleasure spending time with their guests. They create a welcoming and friendly atmosphere and over dinner we exchanged stories and laughed at François’ tales of how he transformed from city slicker to most happiest watching his animals for hours on end!

François is a talented cook and revels in all the fabulous produce at his fingertips in Normandy. What he doesn’t grow himself, he sources from his favourite local suppliers. He told me that he like to keep dishes simple and lets the ingredients do the talking. Since moving to Normandy, word of François’ culinary skills has spread and in 2014 he was invited to join the Confrérie de la Marmite d’Or – a brotherhood that exists to protect traditional cuisine and to promote the use of quality local produce.

Our meal started with a cream of pumpkin soup served with foie gras followed by stuffed squid, a Norman cheese board, and to end, a delicious caramelised apple tart. Accompanied by choice wines and to end, tea with herbs from the garden, this was a dinner of kings!

The Ferme des Isles is conveniently located on the Impressionist trail, just 50 minutes west of Paris, 25 minutes from Claude Monet’s enchanting home in Giverny where he painted his famous waterlilies, and 30 minutes from the historic city of Rouen. Why not take advantage of Sophie and François’ five-day ‘French language, culture and cuisine’ break, which combines French lessons, accommodation, cultural trips and great food? Visit www.lafermedesisles.com for more details.log_normandie_gb1

For information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.