Ever seen a red-fleshed apple? Me neither, until I visited the Clos Cérisey farm in the Normandy département of Eure!
Cider production in Eure dates back to the 16th century. According to historical records, by 1868 there were already 13,600 cider trees in the area, a figure that has increased significantly thanks to local producers keeping the tradition alive to this day.
Situated in the village of Gauciel, the Clos Cérisey farm has been run by the Van Tornhout family since 1929. Originally a mixed farm, the first apple trees were grown in 1985 by Étienne Van Tornhout, and now total around 28,000. Keen to grow apples that set his farm apart from the others, Étienne and his son Stéphane discovered an apple with red skin and flesh, known as the Canadian blood apple, while on a farming internship in Quebec in 1990.
Intrigued by how this type of apple might be farmed back in France, they imported the Canadian blood apple to the farm in Normandy, where Stéphane and his wife Martine developed methods for transforming its unique tangy taste into delicious sparkling apple juice, aperitifs and cidre rosé [pink cider].
In addition to lending itself well to the production of beverages, the Canadian blood apple’s acidic taste is also particularly suitable for the production of confectionery, macaroons, chutneys and other homemade products, which Stéphane and Martine sell to visitors in the farm shop.
The Clos Cérisey is open all year round (10am-12pm and 2pm-6pm, by appointment), so why not pay a visit and find out out how all these products are made, and buy some tasty treats to take home with you?
The best thing my husband and I did 16 years ago, was to move from the South of France to Évreux in Normandy. We’ve met such lovely people since then and our quality of life is second to none. Ideally located just 65 miles from Paris, Évreux is a small town, not too busy, with lots of wonderful countryside, villages and hidden treasures to explore. A particular highlight for us is every Saturday morning, when we always go to the local market in the town centre. We wouldn’t miss it for the world!
When you come to Évreux for the first time, you understand why Normandy is such a culinary destination of choice. All the local delicacies are available: all kinds of fruit and vegetables, meat and charcuterie, fish and shellfish, poultry and of course the dairy products for which Normandy is so famous.
You will also find, of course, the famous four Norman cheeses: Camembert de Normandie, Pont-l’Évêque, Neufchatel and Livarot (cows are everywhere and very productive in Normandy 😊), as well as all sorts of goat cheeses.
You have to try the typically French fromage blanc, which can be eaten sweet or savoury, which is nothing like cottage cheese in UK, farmer’s cheese in the USA or Quark in Germany. Here in Normandy, fromage blanc is all of that rolled into one! For this reason, Évreux market is a very interesting place if you’re a fromage blanc fan like me – it’s my favourite food!
How well do you know cow’s cheese, do you think? Have you ever tasted a cup of goat’s milk or a piece of goat’s cheese on a slice of toasted bread (French bread of course)? If not, be sure to visit Blandine’s market stall, where she sells sourdough bread. BLandine runs the Saint-Mamert Farm near Évreux, and her bread is delicious and organic. Next, head to the bikette caugéenne stall, where Alexandra will help you choose the best goat’s cheese for you! She is a passionate goat farmer the nearby village of Caugé.
Fancy taking home a dessert or two? Here comes la crème de la crème! You probably know macaroons, but have you ever been in front of a stall with hundreds of macaroons? As if you were front of a jewellery shop window? Patricia of Aux Saveurs Retrouvées, whose kitchen and coffee shop are in the village of Buis-sur-Damville, six miles away from Évreux, is a real specialist and a truly lovely person. She experiments with new macaroons every single day with such passion! Look out for her pink food truck on the market, which tends to be there from early in the morning, but be careful – her macaroons are so popular that from 10am onwards there is no guarantee that there will be any left! For more on Patricia’s macaroons, why not read our previous blog post about Aux Saveurs Retrouvées?
After your wander through the market, be sure to walk around Évreux, and do some shopping as well in all of its little shops, such as the Brûlerie Moderne coffee maker’s, which sells a large selection of coffee beans, tea and chocolate. Then, at the end of your visit to Évreux, you can go on a diet (but not before)!
Today is the day when I am literally going to talk a load of tripe. To commemorate World Tripe Day, this post focuses on a rather unexpected local delicacy from Normandy, or more precisely, from the bustling city of Caen: the famous tripes à la mode de Caen.
In the Middle Ages, William the Conqueror made Caen his own signature city, building two abbeys and a ducal castle. It is said that the local dish tripes à la mode de Caen dates back to the medieval period and the original recipe was the brainchild of a monk from the Men’s Abbey in Caen. Legend also has it that the Duke of Normandy and King of England really enjoyed a meal of local tripe, and would wash it down with apple juice.
As the daughter of good old Yorkshire stock, I was rather unfazed about the idea of eating tripe when I first came over to Normandy. My mum and dad used to occasionally eat raw tripe with buttered brown bread and vinegar when I was little, although having tried this once, I never came back for more. When making tripes à la mode de Caen, however, the tripe is traditionally simmered for a long time in a special earthenware dish until very tender, and then washed down with a glass of chilled Muscadet. Now, that sounds so much more appealing!
The next stumbling block though, is the time of day you’re supposed to eat tripe. I don’t know about you, but first thing in the morning, even a full English breakfast is hard work. I need to be wide awake and at least one cup of tea down. In my corner of Normandy, tripe is usually served as part of a leisurely breakfast before the local village fête; in other words, any time from 8:30am onwards. And never fear, even at this time of day the Muscadet is in full flow! My children’s primary schools also used to hold matinées tripes [tripe mornings] to raise funds for school trips. All the local pensioners would turn out in force at the village hall on a Sunday morning to tuck into tripe, support their grandchildren and catch up on the gossip.
If you’re feeling gutsy and you’re looking for a good spot to buy some award-winning tripes à la mode de Caen, look no further than the Boucherie Sabot in Caen. Or for those wanting to dine out in style, head to Caen’s restaurants Bœuf et Cow, Le Relais d’Alsace and Le Tablier, all of which serve this local delicacy. Also worth a visit is the gastronomic restaurant Le Dauphin, just opposite Caen Castle, which won this year’s special Tripière d’Orprize, awarded by the prestigious Confrèrie de Gastronomie Normande [Brotherhood of Norman Gastronomy] in Caen. Bon appétit !
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
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!
3. Last year, no fewer than 50,000 people flooded into Granville for this popular festival – we reckon that’s an endorsement if any.
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.
6. Live music will be played all weekend right on the quais, so why not enjoy a jog to a sea shanty or two?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.’
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!