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.
Exactly 15km from its famous cousin Camembert, the village of Livarot has its own star: the Livarot cheese, which celebrates its 107th birthday this year.
Although Livarot is situated in the département of Calvados, oddly enough it was a farmer from the Orne, named Eugène Graindorge, who made the first Livarot cheese in 1910. The story goes that he started to develop his business by collecting milk and cheese from his neighbours and maturing them in the small village of Livarot. Later, his son Bernard helped expand the Graindorge dairy so much between 1940 and 1980 that Livarot cheese started to appear on the menu in Parisian restaurants. Nowadays, Eugène’s grandson is in charge of the Graindorge Family Dairy and still makes cheese that has been granted Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) status.
Now, you probably already know that French people love and respect their cheeses. But did you know that Livarot is nicknamed the Colonel Cheese?
I know what you’re thinking: Don’t make such a big deal out of it, it’s just cheese! (or should I say n’en fais pas tout un fromage!) But this nickname in fact comes from the initial way in which this cheese was made.
You may have noticed the ridges on the sides of this orange cheese. These are prints made by the sedge leaves (usually three or five) used to hold the cheese together during the maturing process and maintain its shape. And that’s why the French call Livarot cheese the Colonel – its markings look like the stripes on a military uniform!
If you want to enjoy a good AOC Livarot cheese, I really recommend that you go to the Livarot Cheese Fair. This year’s event takes place this weekend on 5 and 6 August, and it’s well worth a visit. Last year, I was lucky enough to go, and let me tell you, I never tired of walking through the picturesque village streets, enjoying the aromas of cheese, cider and grilled meat! Luckily, it’s not an option to refuse free samples from local producers (after all, I don’t want to be rude), especially when those samples are French cheese!
The Livarot Cheese Fair typically starts with everyone having a drink together, followed by cookery lessons using Norman cheeses (you can find a nice recipe below). This year marks the 30th anniversary of the fair, and to celebrate the occasion, there will be a parade, complete with brass band. There will also be the famous Livarot eating contest on Sunday morning, surely my favourite bit of the fair! The goal is to eat a 750g Livarot cheese as quickly as possible. The record, set in 2012, is 1 minute and 51 seconds. If you’re at the fair this weekend, why not give it a go?
With so much food for thought, you won’t be leaving the Livarot Cheese Fair empty-handed, so here’s one of my favourite easy cheesey recipes for you to try with your own Livarot:
Egg cocotte with Livarot and pumpkin
100g Livarot cheese
20cl single cream
100g diced pumpkin
1 packet of lardons
butter (for greasing)
salt and pepper
Dice the pumpkin and boil in 20cl salted water
Once cooked, drain half of the liquid and mix the diced pumpkin and the single cream into the remaining liquid
Preheat oven to 150°C
Fry up the lardons
Grease four ramekin dishes (or similar) with butter
Pour the pumpkin and cream mixture into the ramekins
Add the fried lardons and nutmeg, and season to taste with salt and pepper (bearing in mind that the lardons are salty)
Break an egg into each ramekin and add the diced Livarot (no rind)
Place the four ramekin dishes in a shallow pan of warm water (a bain-marie) and cook in the oven for 8-10 minutes
The Graindorge Family Dairy is open Monday to Saturday from January to October (for exact times, refer to the Graindorge website) and runs guided tours and tastings for €3.30 per person.
This weekend, France celebrates Saint Madeleine’s Day on 22 July. I should confess to having a particular soft spot for madeleines; not only do I love eating the melt-in-the mouth cakes but my teenage daughter is called Madeleine. This first name seemed an obvious choice for a little Brit born and growing up in France as it was understood on both sides of the Channel… but back to the cakes! Legend has it that a certain ‘madeleine’ made the very first of the said cakes for pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and she used a scallop shell mould, the symbol of the route, to give the madeleines the distinctive shape they have to this day.
Normandy boasts its very own madeleine producer, the Biscuiterie Jeanette 1850. Based just east of Caen in Démouville, this company has been making biscuits since 1850 and, like most businesses, has had its ups and downs over the years. In 2015, the workforce together with the financial backing of a local entrepreneur Georges Viana, determinedly fought off bankruptcy to save its 150 years of traditional savoir-faire. The new company is now going strong and is a real local success story. One of the main reasons for this is their supremely yummy madeleines, which combine the traditional cake with quirkily modern flavours such as almond, chocolate, pistachio and citrus fruits. A luxury range of madeleines, created for Jeanette by the master chef, Philippe Parc, comes in flavours like Damas rose, Asian citrus fruits, chocolate with pistachio, rapsberry, mandarine and vanilla, and a range of organic madeleines is new for 2017. And now I have whet your taste buds, would you like to know where to get hold of these madeleines?
Visitors to the Jeanette factory can take full advantage of its shop, which is open on weekday afternoons from 1pm to 6pm and on Saturdays from 10am to 5pm
Elsewhere in France, Jeannette madeleines can be found in many outlets across Normandy and in the surrounding areas
Outside France, madeleine enthusiasts can get their fill by ordering via the Jeannette mail order service (shipping overseas is possible on request)
Now for a little cultural history with a madeleine moment. Marcel Proust, the author of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, sets a key scene in the novel around the sensory experience of eating the madeleine and drinking the tea offered by his aunt, which makes the narrator go back to his childhood memories. Room 414 on the 4th floor of the sumptous Grand Hôtel in Cabourg was Proust’s summer home for seven summers in a row from 1907, where he retreated to Normandy from the heat and hubbub of the capital. It is here that he is said to have written much of the A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. If you would like to sip tea and nibble on madeleines like Proust’s character, why not treat yourself to a few days in the Grand Hôtel in the very room which inspired the novelist? Situated on the promenade, the Grand Hôtel is a wonderful place to stay, combining five-star glamour with the informality of a family-friendly, seaside hotel. The Sunday buffet lunch is a banquet fit for a king with its seafood spread being the highlight for me, together with the tinkling musical accompaniment from the regular pianist on the resident baby grand.
Finally, here is a short video which shows you how to make your very own madeleines if you would like to celebrate in spirit with me and my daughter this weekend: www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOIiR_zYbEc
And if your madeleines are a storming success, why not enter the amateur madeleine baking competition held in Cabourg this September at the tea room La Maison Dupont avec Thé?
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!
The ultimate in comfort foods is good old fashioned rice pudding and Normandy’s Teurgoule is no exception. I first came across this yummy local dessert when I moved here to Normandy some twenty years ago. My husband and I were invited at the last minute to stay for a typical family dinner and the highlight was the arrival at the end of the meal of a large, earthenware bowl with a rather off-putting volcanic crust covering the dish. Our hosts laughed at our reaction, broke through the crust to reveal a creamy rice pudding with a definite cinnamon kick. Since then I have been a Teurgoule convert.
The recipe is a simple combination of five basic ingredients and should ideally include Normandy’s unique creamy milk. The secret is to leave the pudding to cook at a low temperature for a good long while in an earthenware dish. Originally the Teurgoule was put in a wood burning bread oven to cook slowly in the embers at the end of the day’s baking. Traditionally the pudding is served with a brioche called fallue and a glass or two of cider.
The name mostly likely comes from the expression se tordre la gueule [to pull a face] as the pudding is piping hot when it first comes out of the oven and can catch you unawares!
Nowadays you can buy Teurgoule on most local markets and also from producers who sell direct from their farms in the Bienvenue à la Ferme scheme.
Here is the definitive recipe from the Confrérie of Teurgoule, which holds its annual Teurgoule and Fallue competition in Houlgate every September:
Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 6 hours
– 2 litres of full fat milk
– 150g rice
– 180g white caster sugar
– 1 pinch of salt
– 2 level teaspoons of ground cinnamon
Put the rice into an earthenware bowl with a 2 litre capacity.
Add in the caster sugar, salt and cinnamon and stir with a spatula.
Gently pour in the milk so that the rice stays put at the bottom of the dish.
Put the dish in a preheated oven at gas mark 5 (150°C) for one hour and then lower the heat to gas mark 3 (110°C) for four hours. The Teurgoule is ready when the dish is crusted over and the excess liquid has evaporated.
The Normandy countryside is full of surprises and Les Saisons restaurant is definitely one of them. The tiny village of Cambremer is in the heart of the lush Pays d’Auge countryside. This is true picture postcard Normandy, where in spring you’ll spot the native brown and white dairy cows grazing in the blossom-filled apple orchards.
I was touring this beautiful spot with a group of journalists and we were heading to Les Saisons for a spot of lunch on the recommendation of my local tourist partner, Armelle. The road to Cambremer had taken us through villages of pretty half-timbered houses, passing by fields, farms and orchards, and we’d barely seen any traffic for a good twenty minutes. It was 1pm and we were already well into the lengthy French pause déjeuner; no wonder nobody was about!
We arrived in a picturesque and deserted Cambrember, parked up and headed to the village square to find our restaurant. From the outside, Les Saisons looked a like a classy belle époque bistrot that wouldn’t look out of place in the Latin Quarter. A small outside seating area was eagerly awaiting the return of summer and I imagined this would be an idyllic spot for sipping a cider and watching the world go by.
We stepped inside and indeed the front room was like a Parisian brasserie with its high ceiling, benches, red velvet curtains, tiled floor and beautiful wooden bar. We were immediately greeted by the friendly Italian giant, Fabio, who ushered us through to an annex that was much more spacious and, like the first room, packed with chattering locals. Word of this great lunch spot must have spread – it was lucky we’d booked! The second dining room was cosier and more rustic than the first with its ochre-coloured walls, straw baskets hanging from the ceiling and dressers laden with pretty crockery.
The menu was not extensive and by the time we arrived for lunch (late by French standards), there were just two options left for dessert. This was more than made up for by the fact that the dishes changed daily to ensure super fresh and seasonal ingredients. Unusual for a French menu too were the number of vegetarian dishes both for the starters and the mains. And the best bit – three courses would set us back just €18 a head. No wonder it was so busy! We started with a bottle of delicious chilled local cider and ordered our food. I ordered the carpaccio of fresh beetroot served with flakes of toasted almonds and parmesan. It was simple, delicious and felt more like home cooking – a welcome change after so much rich restaurant food on our travels. My fellow diners opted for the pumpkin muffin with salad, which also looked good.
For my main, I’d gone for poached fish, served with braised leeks and fennel and potatoes. It was almost like a stew, packed with flavour so good that I needed to order an extra basket of baguette to soak up all the yummy sauce. My lunch buddies had ordered the Norman smoked andouille (chitterling sausage) stew and vegetarian quiche, and were all very happy with their lot.
By the time it came to dessert, I was already feeling pretty full. It would normally have been a totally unnecessary indulgence, but in the name of research, I thought I’d better order one! The choice was between chocolate brownie with cream or rice pudding with salted caramel sauce, known in Normandy as teurgoule. I opted for the latter; it came recommended by Fabio, after all. I’m not a habitual rice pudding eater, normally finding them a bit too heavy, but this version was surprisingly light and deliciously creamy, perfectly offset by the salted caramel sauce. By the time we finished our meal, most of the locals had moved on and headed back to work. We finished with an espresso and a chat with the lovely Fabio before hitting the road, happy with our new find.
So if you’re exploring the Norman countryside, perhaps following the 40-mile cider route that passes through Cambremer, why call in at Les Saisons for a delicious, good-value meal in a charming setting?
La Vieille Abbaye is a self-catering gite and B&B boasting fantastic foodie credentials. British lass Kate moved to Normandy 15 years ago when she married Stéphane, a Norman dairy farmer. When they came across this farm with its beautiful seventeenth-century farmhouse in the Suisse Normande, they fell in love with it immediately and quickly snapped it up.
Neither Stéphanie nor Kate do things by halves and for Stéphane, having his own farm was his opportunity not only to grow a herd of Norman dairy cows but to produce his own cream, yoghurt and butter too. Kate had a vision of transforming the large farmhouse and adjoining stone barn building into luxury accommodation where families of all sizes would be welcome.
The accommodation is superb. The exposed stone walls and chintzy patchwork quilts give that cosy country farmhouse feel while the four-poster bed, twinkling chandelier and roll top bath add a good dose of luxury. I stayed in one of the vast B&B suites in the main farmhouse, overlooking the courtyard and garden on one side and the cow shed on the other.
For guests who want to learn more about farming, Stéphane will happily show you his cows and tell you about his love of farming.
Kate is a keen cook and offers guests an evening meal so of course, I had to sign up and sample her fare. Kate invited me into her kitchen to see how she prepares some of her signature dishes and tell me a little bit more about her Anglo-Norman cooking. She is passionate about cooking with fresh, local ingredients and keeps food-miles to a minimum. At the farm, she grows her own vegetables and herbs, the farm provides all her dairy produce and when the meat doesn’t come from their own livestock, it comes from neighbouring farms never more than 10km away.
Kate tells me that she’s always been keen on cooking quality, healthy food. Since moving to Normandy her cooking is at its core healthy, but admittedly, there’s a good dose of cream involved!
My meal starts off with a delicious cream of tomato soup with basil, all the tomatoes coming from Kate’s vegetable garden.
When guests book a meal at la Vielle Abbaye, they’re offed a few choices for each course but the pork tenderloin with cream and calvados is the most popular, Kate thinks because it incorporates some of the best Norman produce. The deliciously creamy tender pork is served alongside fresh vegetables from the garden and some delicious roast potatoes which Kate tells me are popular with both her French and English guests.
For a demo of how to make this delicious dish, watch the video below:
And then on to dessert… this was pure indulgence! One of the latest trends in Normandy restaurants is a “café gourmand.” The concept is simple; the torture of having to choose just one item of a dessert menu is overturned and instead you can sample a few mini sweet treats. Kate’s café gourmand included a home-made crème brulée, a mini meringue and a French flan – all sinfully good!
The following morning, once again I had the good fortune to enjoy some more breakfast cooking before hitting the road. Kate prepared one of her regular breakfast dishes – eggs à la Normande. She cracks a couple of eggs (laid by Cheryl the chicken) over lardons, adds home-made crème fraiche, a sprinkle of grated cheese, salt and pepper, and then pops it into the oven for ten minutes. This is definitely a recipe I’ll be taking home with me!
For more information on staying at La Vieille Abbaye and prices, click here.
When it comes to food, fun and festivities, the Norman city of Caen ticks every box. Situated in the département of Calvados, famous for its apple brandy of the same name, its cider and its ripe creamy cheeses (Livarot and Pont-l’Evêque), Caen is a lively university town boasting fantastic restaurants, bars, medieval landmarks and much more.
My recent foodie press trip to Caen was organised with two key objectives -to visit the brand new gastronomy exhibition À Table! at the Musée de Normandie and to explore Caen as a foodie destination.
Running until March 2017, the À Table! exhibition focuses on the tradition of food in Normandy from the 17th century up to the 20th century, and the pleasure that the Normans derive from sitting down and enjoying a meal together. My journalists and I were guided through several different sections, which concentrated on everything from the invention of modern and regional cuisines, the relationship between the cook and gourmet eater to the joy of eating in Normandy and even the intricacies of setting the table. A particular highlight was a vast collection of artwork used in food advertising over the years – think of all of the assorted artwork found on Camembert packets and you get the idea. There’s no-one who does food advertising quite like the French!
Following the exhibition we were lucky enough to be invited on a foodie-themed Segway tour of Caen. By this point, the sun had set and the Christmas lights had come on, making it a really festive atmosphere. Anyone who has been on a Segway before will know that it takes a little while to acclimatise but once we had got the hang of it, we were ready and raring to go! We were lucky enough to be seeing the sights with Com’On Gyro, who have just started running guided tours of the city. We opted for the ‘foodie tour’ (naturally)!
Starting at Caen Castle, we headed to the Abbaye aux Hommes, the spectacular Norman abbey commissioned by William Duke of Normandy to appease the Pope, who opposed his decision to marry his cousin Matilda of Flanders. William the Conqueror’s tomb lies in the abbey, and is well worth a visit, although it is unclear as to how much of him is actually buried there as his grave, along with many others, was looted during the Religious Wars in the 17th century.
Either way, the Abbey aux Hommes, which sits proudly next to the vast and unmissable Hôtel de Ville, is a glorious example of Norman architecture at its finest, and it is testament to the skill of builders at the time that it remains in such superb condition today. December is a particularly good time to enjoy this part of town as there is a big wheel on the Espanade Jean-Marie Louvel, from which visitors can enjoy stunning views of the Abbaye aux Hommes, the Hôtel de Ville and the ruined church, Saint-Etienne-le-Vieux, a symbol of Caen and poignant reminder of the devastation suffered by the city during the Second World War.
On to the beautiful Place Saint-Sauveur, just around the corner. Until 28 December 2016, Caen will be holding a large Christmas Market on this square. As well as all of the staple must-buy Norman products, there is festive mulled cider, crêpes with Camembert and assorted French sweet treats – nougat, macaroons, nuts dipped in toffee, the list goes on…
We turned right down the Rue Froide, so-named because this is apparently the road down which William had Matilda tied to a horse by her hair and dragged kicking and screaming after he found out that she had been unfaithful. She was allegedly treated with indifference by the street’s inhabitants, leading her to comment on what a ‘cold road’ it was. Surely not, my journalists and I protested, for it was a love match between William and his queen? Our tour guide Florence from the Caen Tourist Office responds that it could just as easily be named Rue Froide because the road runs from south-east to north-west and is a bit of a wind tunnel.
Not wanting our view of the the Conqueror and first Norman King of England to be tarnished, we agreed that it must surely be the latter explanation and were led into a wine merchant’s called BiBoViNo, where local sommelier Benoît Leclerc was waiting for us with a glass of vin chaud, bread and Camembert and some yummy tergoule (Normandy rice pudding).
Our foodie encounter at BiBoViNo was followed a hop and a skip next door for a glass of cidre glacé and a snifter of Calvados at La Boîte à Calva, a shop specialising in Norman products: Calvados, cider, locally-brewed beer, regional cheese and Isigny caramels, to name but a few. Suitably fed and watered, my journalists and I got back on our Segways (on which we were now quite the experts) and headed back to Caen Castle. Quite how we would now manage the next stage of the foodie press trip, namely a three-course dinner, was beyond us. One thing we were sure of, however, was that Caen was certainly tapping into its true potential as a foodie destination!
The À Table! exhibition is running at the Musée de Normandie until 5 March 2017 (Wednesday to Sunday, entry: €3.50).
Legend has it this Normandy classic was created in the 1960s in a mariners and sailors’ tavern called La Marmite Dieppoise on the quays of Dieppe. The owner, Madame Maurice, was renowned in the region for her delicious fish dishes à la dieppoise (Dieppe-style). Named after the restaurant in which it was invented, Madame Maurice’s dish is to this day prepared using local fish and seafood: sole, red mullet, turbot, prawns and mussels, which are complemented with fresh celery, parsley, leek, onions and spices such as paprika and cayenne pepper. This rich and hearty Norman fish stew could certainly give its Provençal counterpart bouillabaisse a run for its money!
Cycling tip: Dieppe is situated on both the Avenue Verte and EuroVelo 4 cycle routes so why not stop off for a bite at La Marmite Dieppoise en route?
Calvados in the Pays d’Auge
The Busnel Distillery is one of the oldest producers of calvados (apple brandy) in the Pays d’Auges, a ‘controlled designation of origin’ (AOC), meaning that anything produced in this area receives a quality label. The distillery arguably performs nothing short of a miracle, turning apples into cider, then distilling cider to producing eau de vie, then distilling eau de vie in oak casks for years until it becomes the golden calva that is used to make calvados. The Busnel Distillery runs guided tours in English which lets visitors see the different stages of distilling and sample a selection of the distillery’s best-selling products – but best have a break before you hop on your bike again!
Cycling tip: The Busnel Distillery is located in the town of Cormeilles, which is 12km away from Saint‑André-d’Hébertot on the EuroVelo 4 cycle route. Why not combine your tour of the distillery with a lunch break at nearby foodie hotspot and brainchild of Chef Alexis Osmont, Gourmandises?
Chitterling sausage in Vire
Chitterling sausage (known in French as andouille) is a Norman specialty. Made from pig intestines, regarded as somewhat of a local delicacy, and seasoned with Guérande sea salt, andouille was first cooked by local butchers in the town of Vire, and its distinctive earthy taste has contributed to the popularity of this French region with foodies! A staple dish in many Norman restaurants, this tasty sausage has been perpetuating the traditions of gastronomy in the region for centuries. Enjoy it cold with farmhouse bread or warm with a salad, caramelised onions or apples. For lovers of simple, rustic French food, sampling andouille is a must!
Cycling tip: Vire is located on the Tour de Manche, EuroVelo 4 and Plages du débarquement>Mont-Saint-Michel cycle routes. Why not visit the annual andouille festival late October/early November or visit a local producer to discover the secrets of its production?
Poiré in the Pays de Domfront
Poiré (or perry) is apple cider’s more refined cousin. A pale yellow, lightly sparkling beverage, poiré may not be as popular as cider but has earned itself the nickname ‘Normandy’s answer to champagne’ thanks to its light, bubbly character. Poiré has been produced in Normandy for hundreds of years; in fact, the first records of pears growing in the region date back to the 11th century! With more than 100,000 pear trees and almost 100 varieties, the Pays de Domfront produces around 25,000 tonnes of pears that are then used to make poiré.
Cycling tip: Domfront is situated right on the crossroads of the Vélo Francette and the Véloscénie so is a great place for an overnight stop-off. Be sure to sample the local tipple at a nearby poiré farm such as the Ferme des Grimaux and explore Domfront’s beautiful medieval town centre!
Mère Poulard’s omelette on the Mont-Saint-Michel
The Restaurant de la Mère Poulard on the Mont-Saint-Michel is somewhat of an institution and its famous fluffy omelette is the stuff of legends. Founded in 1888 by Annette Poulard, the restaurant was originally an inn where pilgrims visiting the mount would stay, and among a multitude of other delicious dishes, she would make them an omelette that had been cooked over a wood fire. To this day, chefs at the restaurant still follow her secret recipe, and visitors from all over the world come to the restaurant to sample Mère Poulard’s omelette, roast lamb, fish, seafood, and other delicacies.
Cycling tip: The Mont-Saint-Michel is conveniently situated at the end of the Vélocénie and D-Day Beaches>Mont-Saint-Michel cycle routes, and is also on the EuroVelo 4 and Le Tour de Manche cycle routes, so there’s plenty of scope to incorporate a trip to the mount into your itinerary!
Neufchâtel, the heart-shaped cheese
Made from cow’s milk, this soft, slightly crumbly, mould-ripened cheese is one of France’s oldest varieties, dating back as far as 1035. Usually sold in the shape of a heart, legend has it that the young farm girls of Neufchâtel-en-Bray fell in love with English soldiers during the Hundred Years War and started making heart shaped cheeses for them to show their affection. Neufchâtel’s taste and texture is reminiscent of its more famous cousin Camembert, only with tones of nuts and mushrooms, and it is the perfect accompaniment to a glass of cider or red wine.
Cycling tip: Neufchâtel-en-Bray is situated on the Avenue Verte route, about 35km inland from Dieppe. Why not go for the full-on cheese experience and visit the annual Neufchâtel-en-Bray Cheese Festival held every autumn, or see how Neufchâtel is made at one of the local cheese factories?
Saffron at the Domaine de Gauville
Saffron production became very important in the 17th and 18th centuries in France, and between then and now, several saffron farms have cropped up in Normandy. The Domaine de Gauville is one such farm. Founded by Myriam Duteuil, who in 2014 quit the hustle and bustle of Paris to embark on a more rural way of life, this organic saffron farm has gone from strength to strength, and Myriam’s delicious saffron is even served up at restaurants in the area. Take a guided tour of the farm, enjoy a saffron‑themed weekend away in Myriam’s gite, do a saffron cooking class, and take full advantage of all the tasty saffron treats on sale in the farm shop!
Cycling tip: The Domaine de Gauville is located just 8km off the local cycle track that runs from the city of Evreux (which has direct train links to Paris) up to the town of Pont‑Authou. Why not stop off at restaurant Le Logis de Brionne on your way back to the cycle route and try Chef Alain Depoix’s famous scallops, prepared with saffron from the farm?
A seafood platter in Ouistreham
There’s no better place to enjoy all that the sea has to offer than on the coast, and when it comes to seafood, Le Channel in Ouistreham has it all sussed out. This restaurant, situated just five minutes from the ferry terminal, has brought together an impressive medley of mouth-watering dishes, such as oysters with shallots, mussels served in a choice of wine, cider or camembert sauce, and of course, the flagship seafood platter, all caught that day! Always happy to recommend a calvados aperitif or small glass of pommeau to go with your scallops, manager Pascale Charpentier and her team give a warm welcome and a wide selection of all the Norman classics.
Cycling tip: Ouistreham is situated on both the Vélo Francette and EuroVelo 4 cycle routes so is perfect for a post-ferry overnight stop-off or simply a bite to eat before you head off again!
Black pudding in Mortagne-au-Perche
Mortagne in the Perche Regional Natural Park is surely the world’s black pudding capital. Said to be the oldest refined meat product in Europe, the story goes that boudin noir, the French’s superior version of black pudding, was first made by ancient Celts out of the blood of their enemies. When it’s done right, as it certainly is in Mortagne – boudin noir is gloriously rich, tender and flavoursome, and thanks to the Black Pudding Festival which has been held in the town every March since 1963, it is well and truly an integral part of any Norman menu. It even has a dedicated fraternity with their very own robes: the Brotherhood of Black Pudding Knights.
Cycling tips: Mortagne-au-Perche is situated just 2km off the Véloscénie cycle route where it passes Saint-Langis-lès-Mortagne. Spend the night at the beautiful former courthouse, the Hôtel du Tribunal and try Chef Freddy Pommier’s delicious take on the famous boudin noir of Mortagne!
Oysters in Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue
Did you know that oyster farmers in Normandy produce roughly a quarter of all oysters produced in France? If you’re a lover of oysters, Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue in the north-east corner of the Cotentin Pensinsula is a particularly good place to go. Saint-Vaast oysters are well known for their subtle nutty flavour, and are delicious eaten raw, whether with zingy lemon juice or sharp shallot vinegar. Particularly popular in the winter months, no Christmas table in Normandy is complete without them. In summer months, local oyster farms run tours of the oyster farms in the area, and visitors flock to the pretty harbour area of Saint-Vaast to enjoy oysters outside on the restaurant terraces.
Cycling tip: Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is located on the EuroVelo 4 cycling route and is the perfect place for an overnight stop-off. Sample oysters at Le Débarcadère, enjoy the views out over the harbour and taste the sea!
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, and for a list of all of the main food festivals in the region, please visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.
Over on this side of the Channel, think of Bayeux and I bet your boots that images of its world famous UNESCO listed tapestry come to mind.
For good reason – it’s an incredible 70 metre long eleventh-century piece of embroidery. Depicting the events surrounding the Norman invasion of England in 1066, it could be said to be the first ever comic strip. Alongside the tapestry, there are many other good reasons to visit Bayeux.
The charming town, with its many half-timbered houses, miraculously avoided any devastation when the Allies invaded the nearby beaches on D-Day.
The eleventh-century Norman-Romanesque cathedral is utterly remarkable and is most definitely worth a visit too.
Ask a local and they may well give you another reason to visit this pretty Norman town – the Saturday market. France is famous for its colourful, bustling markets that take over main squares of cities, towns and villages and Bayeux’s version does not disappoint.
Row upon row of sellers display their produce under colourful awnings offering the choicest and freshest cheeses, meat, fruits and vegetables.
This being Normandy and all, you’ll find a few stalls selling the obligatory local cidre and as many apple and pear products as you can imagine.
Amid the colours, the bustling atmosphere and the sing-song of the stall holders, a fantastic aroma of sizzling saucepans cooking up fresh paella and stews permeates through the air.
So if you’re in the area, head to the Place Saint-Patrice, there’s no better way to buy your groceries!