Andouille de Vire, a bit of a banger

Vire is a cosy market town in the bocage hinterland of Normandy and is world famous for being home to andouille, the local smoked chitterling sausage. Over recent years, andouille has become increasingly more popular over the Channel and is now quite a trendy ingredient for foodie fashionistas. Vire is the nearest big town to my rural retreat, where my kids go to school and where I do my weekly shop, usually on a Friday when it’s market day. My son is particularly fond of this unique charcuterie, and used to call andouille ‘the black sausage’ when he was a lot younger because of its dark skin, a result of the smoking process.

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© Office de Tourisme du Bocage Normand

Pork chitterlings are used to make the sausage and it’s well worth taking a look at the Asselot Andouille factory website to see just how the andouille takes shape. For those who would like to see the andouille artisans in action, it is also possible to join a guided tour (in French) of the Asselot factory in Vire, which takes place Tuesday-Friday in the mornings and afternoons and costs just €2 per person. This is a great way to see just how andouille is made, sample some sausage at source and buy some to take home. There is also the excellent Paul Danjou shop in Vire which sells andouille to local charcuterie connoisseurs, prepared on-site and displayed elegantly in the shop window.

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© Office de Tourisme du Bocage Normand

My husband likes a few thin slices of andouille served with a glass of full bodied red wine as an appetiser. Andouille is an acquired taste and it is best to eat a few slices and not the whole sausage in one sitting. If you are feeling adventurous and happy to brush up on your French, Paul Danjou have a YouTube channel with some fun recipes to try out!

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© Office de Tourisme du Bocage Normand

If you become a true fan, you could always head to Vire for the annual Fête de l’Andouille which is generally held at the end of October and is fun for all the family. This year, Portugal was the guest of honour and there were lots of cooking demos with local chefs, tastings and a special competition to find the person who makes the most realistic pig noise!

For lovers of good food, Vire is also home to some wonderful restaurants, including the sumptuous Manoir de la Pommeraie run by the dynamic young chef Julien Guérard who has previously worked in the UK and speaks excellent English. With his Japanese wife, who is a wonderful pastry chef, they serve exquisite food and use all locally sourced ingredients. The three-course lunchtime menu costs less than €30 and is excellent value for money. Vire is also home to Degrenne who produce fine crockery and cutlery in their local factory and who are proud to count the Elysée Palace and Air France among their clientèle. A factory visit (in French) or a spot of shopping in the factory shop make a trip to Vire complete!

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The pretty Norman town of Vire © Calvados Tourisme

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

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Cover photo © Calvados Tourisme | Writer: Alison Weatherhead

What a load of tripe

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.

Statue Guillaume le Conquerant Falaise © Philippe Bosseboeuf Fotolia.com
Caen’s finest son: William the Conqueror © Philippe Bossebouef / Fotolia.com

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.

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The Men’s Abbey in Caen © Kevin14 / Fotolia.com 

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!

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Tripes à la mode de Caen © Calvados Tourisme

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.

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Tripes à la mode de Caen © Fotolia.com

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’Or prize, awarded by the prestigious Confrèrie de Gastronomie Normande [Brotherhood of Norman Gastronomy] in Caen. Bon appétit !

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

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Cover photo © Fotolia.com | Writer: Alison Weatherhead

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

Love food? Love Le Havre!

When you think of foodie destinations in France, Le Havre is not exactly what springs to mind. Yet this buzzing coastal city in Normandy is fast finding its feet as a popular weekend destination for foodies, families and francophiles. Not only is it super simple to travel over to Le Havre from the UK – a mere 6-hour ferry from Portsmouth, to be precise – but the city is also celebrating its 500th anniversary this year, so there’s all sorts of fun to be had there.

Le Havre’s concrete facades lend a modern feel to the city centre, 90% of which was destroyed during the Second World War and completely rebuilt in the years that followed. Designed by Auguste Perret, a leading architect of the time, pristine low-rise blocks give us a remarkable sense of space here not often found in cities – the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville is one of the largest squares in Europe, and the Avenue Foch, which leads down to the beach, is wider even than the Champs Elysées. So impressive is Perret’s post-war reconstruction that in 2005, UNESCO classified Le Havre’s city centre a World Heritage Site.

But back to the food! As you might expect, being by the sea, Le Havre boasts a whole host of places to eat fish and seafood. It is also a great place to savour all the Norman classics, and showcases local specialties such as marmite dieppoise (fish stew) alongside meat dishes, topped off (of course) with an apple tart. From the rue Racine and the Saint-François quarter in the city centre to the bars and restaurants lining the beach, there is certainly something to suit everyone’s tastes.

So whether you fancy fish or could murder some meat, the following recommendations have got you covered!

Le Grignot

Opposite Le Volcan [The Volcano] in Le Havre’s bustling bar and restaurant district, Le Grignot is one of the most famous brasseries in Le Havre. Specialising in seafood platters, delicious traditional recipes and organic food, its dishes are seasonal and cooked fresh. Grab a table on the terrace and enjoy views of the Volcano, which lights up blue at night!

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Saison 2

Situated right on the promenade overlooking the beach, Saison 2‘s unfussy menu features classics such as burger and chips, meat and two veg, and the must-have dish when at the beach in France: moules-frites. Enjoy with a glass of chilled white wine while watching the sun set over the sea – what better way to spend an evening?

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Le Grand Large

A little way out of town in the stylish neighbouring town of Sainte-Adresse, Le Grand Large, which means the open sea, boasts a maritime menu of epic proportions against a a panoramic view of the Channel. Be sure to try the prawns with citrus fruit followed by this restaurant’s pièce de résistance, the mighty marmite dieppoise.

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Le Bouchon Normand

The word bouchon may make you think of Lyon, but fear not, this restaurant is all Norman! With all ingredients sourced in the region, a particular favourite of ours is the feuilleté de pommes tatin Pont l’Evêque (that’s apple and cheese puff pastry to you and me). For those especially partial to a bit of pomme, there’s also apple tart on the menu…

La Taverne Paillette

Founded in 1596, the Taverne Paillette is almost as old as the city of Le Havre, and is therefore a local landmark in itself. Serving food throughout the day, seven days a week, this lively restaurant is renowned for three things, its delicious seafood (to which we can attest), its sumptious sauerkraut and its refreshing home-brewed beer. Santé !

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Le Bistrot des Halles

Right on the market square, Le Bistrot des Halles is somewhat of an institution in Le Havre. With its parquet floor, wooden bar and wall plaques, it is the very epitome of what we Brits think of as classic French décor and with its vast selection of tasty salads, main courses (we opted for sea bream) and desserts, its food doesn’t disappoint either!

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If you’ve got a taste of Le Havre and now fancy a foodie break there, click here for more inspiration! The city’s 500th anniversary celebrations are going on until 5th November this year so don’t miss out on all the fun!

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

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Photos © Fran Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board | Writer: Fran Lambert

Made in the Manche – 10 treats to try

The Manche département of Normandy is home to a great many artisan food and drink producers who each make and sell delicious specialties à la Manchoise. Here are 10 treats to try when visiting this picturesque part of Normandy!

1) Biscuits from Sainte-Mère-Eglise

Inspired by the wartime history of the town, well-known shop Le Biscuit de Saint-Mère-Église produces a wide range of biscuits with names like little paratroopers, goblin delights, Sainte-Mère biscuits and Normandy shortcakes. For those with a super sweet tooth, they also make their own chocolates. Pop in and watch the biscuitiers at work in the kitchen!

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© Le Biscuit de Sainte-Mère-Église

2) Jam from Bréhal

Jam and biscuit shop Les Délices de Camille, the brainchild of Nadia Legendre, is a range of mouth-watering sweet treats available in a number of unlikely but delicious flavour combinations, such as confiture de bisous [kiss-flavoured jam] – a fusion of strawberry, apple and rose – perfect on a croissant in the morning!

3) Brioche from Le Vast

In the village of Le Vast in the pretty Saire Valley, the La Brioche du Vast bakery has a café where you can enjoy the delicious smell of fresh bread waft from the kitchen before savouring one of the bakery’s famous brioches, washed down with a refreshing bowl of local cider.

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© La Brioche du Vast

4) Camembert from Lessay

The Val d’Ay cheese factory was originally founded by Théodore Réaux back in 1931, and alongside staple products like butter, and cream, it has been producing legendary Réo Camembert AOP, ever since. Made with unpasteurised milk and moulded by ladle in the traditional way, this rich, creamy cheese has won many awards, and you simply can’t visit the Manche without trying it!

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© Shutterstock

5) Caramels from the Bay of the Mont-Saint-Michel

In 2009, dairy farmers Sylvie and Andre launched their organic caramel business, Cara-Meuh, not far from the famous UNESCO-listed Bay of the Mont-Saint-Michel. Hovering halfway between fudge and toffee, Norman caramel is twice as nice, as it is made using milk rather than sugar as the main ingredient. There’s a flavour for everyone, from plain, salted, chocolate and nut to apple and even calvados!

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© Cara-Meuh

6) Goat’s cheese from Liesville-sur-Douve

Hervé and Véronique Lefort of the Huberdière goat farm pamper their 150 goats to produce the best milk for the very best goat’s cheese. Whether it’s plain or flavoured with pepper, herbs, garlic, poppyseeds or fig (yum), there’s bound to be a cheese you’ll love. Find out about how goat’s cheese is made, taste a few cheese varieties, and if you happen to be around at 5:30pm, you may even get to help with the milking.

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© Chèvrerie de la Huberdière

7) Onion sausages from Belval-Gare

For over 20 years, Gilles Villain et Madame Dulin have run their traditional butchers shop and produced the signature onion sausages for which it is now famous. A delicacy enjoyed throughout the Manche département and beyond, be sure to stop off here and stock up on some award-winning sausages!

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© Shutterstock

8) Normandy caramel sauce from Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte

Known in Normandy as confiture de lait, this thick caramel sauce is a regional favourite and is typically used as a condiment or spread for bread or pastries. Those with a sweet tooth will love visiting the Lait Douceur de Normandie shop and try their delicious range of confiture de lait, jams and chutneys made with seasonal fruit and veg, boiled sweets and chocolate, the list goes on… Not just a shop, Lait Douceur de Normandie also offers guided tours, tastings and sweet-making classes for the whole family.

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© Lait Douceur de Normandie

9) Cider from Sotteville

The family-run Théo Capelle distillery on the Cotentin peninsula produces a wide range of aperitifs (including Pommeau de Normandie), ciders, calvados, fruit juices and jams. Enjoy a family visit to the distillery, complete with video screening, tour of the cellars and product tasting, make the most of the farm’s extensive grounds with a picnic under the apple trees, and meet the farm’s resident donkeys, Jasmine and Ficelle.

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© Cidererie-Distillerie Théo Capelle

10) Ham from Marigny

Founded 20 years ago by Marcel Helaine and named after Normandy’s distinctive hedgerow landscape, the Norman ham known as Jambons de Bocage is made the traditional way, namely smoked on a wood fire. Today, Marcel’s son Nicolas produces other traditional products such as handmade Vire tripe sausage, Norman cervelas, smoked garlic sausage and black pudding – take your pick!

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© Shutterstock

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

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Cover photo © Lait Douceur de Normandie | Writer: Fran Lambert

 

L’Hermière, foodie heaven in the Pays de Caux

L’Hermière restaurant, deep in the countryside between Étretat and Le Havre, is a real find. I went recently with my local partner Ivan from the Seine-Maritime Tourist Board, and as I was the only non-French person there, it definitely felt like the type of place only locals would know about.

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Husband and wife team Jean-Charles and Noémie run the restaurant, with Noémie in charge of the kitchen and Jean-Charles managing the front of house.

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What’s most special about L’Hermière is that it is a traditional 16th century half-timbered building that is part of a clos masure, a traditional farmstead found only in the Pays de Caux area of Normandy, which stretches east along the coast from Le Havre to Dieppe and inland to the town of Yvetot. Surrounding the farmstead are rows of enormous beech trees that act as a windbreak, protecting the crops and farm buildings. Given the unique heritage and dying tradition of the clos masure – the département of Seine-Maritime has made a bid to UNESCO to protect these farmsteads with heritage status.

Jean-Charles’ family has lived at L’Hermière for generations. His grandfather was born in the farmhouse where his parents still live; the restaurant is housed in what was once a cowshed and a third barn is used for storing the farm’s fruit and vegetables.

When Jean-Charles’ parents felt the clos masure was too big a property for them to manage on their own, the young couple suggested opening a restaurant as a way to continue the farmstead tradition. L’Hermière has been fully operating as a restaurant since 2013 and it remains, first and foremost, a family business.

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Jean-Charles’ father manages the enormous kitchen garden, next door to the restaurant and this supplies almost all of their fruit and vegetables for the most part of the year. They grow leeks, squash, potatoes, carrots, courgettes, beetroot, quince, apples, berries, pears and much more besides. What they don’t grow themselves, they source from local producers who are proudly listed on a chalkboard at the entrance to the restaurant.

We came for lunch on an autumn day and the menu featured plenty of seasonal squash and wild mushrooms. There were two different menus with two or three choices for each course. I started with an onion, bacon and cheese tart followed by a tagine style sautéed lamb served with buckwheat. This was absolutely delicious – a break from traditional French cuisine with lots of seasonal vegetables and stewed prunes, it was packed with flavour. For dessert, since I would be paying a visit to the Palais Bénédictine that afternoon, I decided to warm up with a crème brulée à la Bénédictine and pieces of crystallised orange. I don’t think you can ever go too far wrong with a good crème brulée and here the zesty alcoholic spike worked brilliantly.

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After our meal, when the lunch rush had calmed down, Jean-Charles spoke to us about his restaurant venture. When L’Hermière first set out in 2011, they only hosted private lunches for large groups on weekends. Jean-Charles explained how a clos masure is ideally designed for families since the natural barrier of the beech trees mean it’s very safe for children to play outside while their parents enjoy lunch. At L’Hermière, there are two plots for pétanques (think bowls, French style) and a patio that’s ideal for an aperitif on sunny days. The private lunches were such a success that Jean-Charles and Noémie then decided to open their restaurant to the public, and ever since, L’Hermière has gone from strength to strength. These days, it is now open for lunch from Tuesday to Saturday and for dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings.

For a truly memorable dining experience at a traditional clos masure farmstead, I’d highly recommend booking a table at L’Hermière – be sure to visit the restaurant website and check out all of the seasonal dishes on offer!

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

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All photos © M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board | Writer: Maggie McNulty

 

Eggcellent omelette at La Mère Poulard

A thousand years of history, faith, and talent have shaped the Mont-Saint-Michel, the ‘Wonder of the West’. Legend has it that in 708, the Archangel Saint-Michel appeared before Bishop Aubert and commanded that a sanctuary be built on Mount Tombe, an island in the middle of the bay that saw some of the highest tides in the world.

Thus the Abbey of the Mont-Saint-Michel was built, and over the coming centuries a village grew up around it. The Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay has since become a site of spiritual and cultural pilgrimage for Christians and non-believers from all over the world, so much so that in 1972, UNESCO classified them both as a world heritage site.

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© L. Leloup / Normandy Tourist Board
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© Normandy Tourist Board
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© D. Dumas / Normandy Tourist Board

Today, the famous La Mère Poulard restaurant and inn on the Mont-Saint-Michel is an important part of this world heritage. In 1888, local lass Annette Poulard, previously a chamber maid at the abbey who had married the local baker, opened an inn in the medieval village on the mount. Annette became renowned for her culinary talents, and over her lengthy career at the inn she rustled up some 700 different dishes, from savoury delights (more on that shortly) to her famous biscuits. Her efforts earnt her the title of ‘Mère’, reserved for exceptional cooks. Lo and behold, ‘La Mère Poulard’ was born!

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© Christopher Brown / The Curious Collection

One thing in particular for which La Mère Poulard is renowned is her famous omelette, which is somewhat of an institution. But did you know that it was never intended to be anything more than a starter? In the nineteenth century, guests at the inn (for the most part, pilgrims) were only able to reach the mount at low tide, so would arrive at the inn at all hours of the day and night. When they arrived, Annette would quickly prepare her special omelette as an appetiser before cooking her guests a more substantial meal.

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© Christopher Brown / The Curious Collection

That same fluffy, souffléd omelette is served at the restaurant to this day, and anyone can watch the omelettes being made over the open fire. Firstly, eggs are beaten for at least five minutes until they’re light and fluffy. The mixture is poured into a copper skillet and cooked over the open fire until the bottom is browned, but the inside is still slightly frothy. The omelettes are served either plain or with a choice of bacon, potatoes, Camembert (naturally), ratatouille, foie gras, shrimps or lobster.

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

Combining tradition and simplicity, La Mère Poulard’s omelette was surprisingly contemporary for its time, and is still seen as one of the most original French dishes. For this very reason, the restaurant remains one of the most best known in France and across the world. As many as 4 million French and foreign tourists and gourmets come to the Mont-Saint-Michel each year, and most visit either the restaurant to sample La Mère Poulard’s delicious omelette or the biscuit shop across the road to buy her tasty biscuits.

For more information on La Mère Poulard, click here. For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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Cover photo © Christopher Brown / The Curious Collection | Writer: Fran Lambert

La Renaissance’s star is rising

It is not often that you get to eat in a Michelin-starred establishment. Which is why, when offered the opportunity to do just that, I jumped at it. On 1 February 2016, Arnaud Viel, chef at La Renaissance restaurant/hotel in Argentan, was awarded his first Michelin star, bringing the total number of Michelin starred restaurants in the Orne département up to three!

Fittingly, Arnaud hails from Argentan. Making his debut in Paris at the 5-star Sofitel Hotel at the Centre of New Industries and Technologies (CNIT), he went on to be a finalist in the French Dessert Championships in 1996 and the Lauréate d’Or in 1997. But he never forgot his roots, and returned to Normandy to work as a chef at Argentan’s Auberge de l’Ancienne Abbaye.

In 1998, Arnaud opened his own restaurant/hotel La Renaissance with wife Cécilia. Together, they came up with a stylish design for the hotel and devised a whole host of delicious specialties to serve at the restaurant.

So it was that earlier this month I found myself dining with three journalists and my colleague at La Renaissance, enjoying a deliciously refreshing cocktail of Calvados and tonic with lemon and lime, accompanied by what can only described as the most intricate canapé selection of foie gras, carrot purée, feta parcel with caviar and horseradish with soured cream. One word in particular came to mind – yum!

We were then led into the sumptuous dining room, which looked out onto the hotel grounds (and might I add, a rather appealing spa), sat down at our table and were presented with the menu and a delectable sorbet and popcorn amuse-bouche.

And what a menu!

Tuna tartar served with cold cucumber soup and creamy burrata cheese:

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A choice of either line-caught loin of yellow pollock with fried red onions, artichokes, wild mushrooms, oyster croquette and creamy garlic sauce or the chef’s choice of meat fresh from the market (which was pork on this occasion):

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The ‘pre-dessert’ – praline pastry, chocolate cherry lollipop and pistachio macaroon:

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And to finish, the first Gariguette strawberries of the season served with caramelised rhubard, rose, basil and strawberry and rhubarb sorbet:

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Suffice it to say, Chef Arnaud’s cooking is the epitome of haute cuisine – visually stunning and innovative – and his gourmet menus boast the best quality Normandy produce, all sourced locally and all delicious!

La Renaissance is open seven days a week, lunchtimes and evenings. To book a table online, click here. Or why not make a weekend of it, and eat at the restaurant, stay at the hotel and enjoy the spa and swimming pool? Prices start at €95/night, to reserve a room online, click here.

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

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Cover photo © Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert | Writer: Fran Lambert

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