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

Happiness at Le Bréard in Honfleur

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

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

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

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

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

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

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

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

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

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur / Honfleur Tourist Office

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

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

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

Eat like a king at the Étape Louis XIII

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

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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

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

 

Lunch at Le Bec au Cauchois

Set in lush Normandy countryside between Étretat and Fécamp, Le Bec au Cauchois restaurant is not an address you’d stumble upon. Instead, with a Michelin star and a formidable reputation built by chef and owner Pierre Caillet, this is a spot where foodies make pilgrimage. One Friday night I was lucky enough not only to dine here but to sit at the chef’s table and watch the magic happen…

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

The first thing that struck me was how calm and controlled the kitchen was – a far cry from how I’d imagined most professional kitchens. Perhaps I’ve watched too much Gordon Ramsay but there was zero evidence of the hot-headed chef barking orders whilst the rest of the team was gripped with panic.

There were several set menus of differing sizes all the way up to a nine-course tasting menu as well as à la carte. Stuck in a state of indecision, Chef quizzed me on my appetite, checked if there was anything I didn’t like and said that he would take care of my menu choices. Phew.Despite being fully booked on a Friday night, Chef Pierre happily talked me through what he was preparing, discussed how he’d paired flavours and introduced me to the ingredients that he was most excited about.

I was amazed to see that three or four of the team might work on one single dish. Each was plated to perfection and nothing left the kitchen without final approval from Chef Pierre.

After a selection of amuse bouche, I started off with foie gras coated in a jelly of reduced beetroot served with the shaved cedrat zest – a sharp Japanese citrus fruit, and garnished with tiny fresh flowers. It was a beautiful sight – the red round of foie gras looked like a giant sweetie and Chef Pierre explained that the bitter citrus flavour balanced the richness of the paté.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Next came scallop from Fécamp, marinated in the juice of kalamansi – another exotic citrus fruit, lightly poached and served with parsley root mousse and crisps – an old fashioned and nearly forgotten vegetable.

And then another dish came my way, Jerusalem artichoke with a white truffle ice cream. Chef Pierre informed me that truffle season had just started and I was eating part of his order of five Alsatian truffles that would last him three months. I’d not tried a savoury ice cream before and Chef explained that the ice cream mellowed the strong flavours of the truffle and artichoke – and it did!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

After a dalliance with an enormous cheese board, it was onto dessert: a light mousse of baked apple served on a yummy layer of something resembling a biscuit base and served with a cider coulis. It was light, fresh and ridiculously yummy.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Between courses Pierre explained that his cooking is based around reworking the big French classics inspired by exotic and forgotten ingredients. Originally from Paris, after spending two years in Tipperary, Ireland, Pierre and his family returned to France and settled in Normandy to be close to his in-laws. When Le Bec au Cauchois restaurant was for sale, they snatched it up. Pierre explained that along with the advantages of running a country restaurant – he grows much of his own vegetables and all his herbs- it poses challenges too. Building a reputation was key to winning customers and after many years of hard work, in 2011 he was awarded the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France. This national competition, overseen by the French Ministry of Labour, takes place every four years to award outstanding ability in a number of fields. Hundreds of chefs enter but after 18-months of examinations, Pierre was one of only eight chefs to be awarded the life-long title. Soon after in 2012, Le Bec au Cauchois was awarded one Michelin star.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Its reputation is now sealed and Pierre and his team cook for a full house most nights. For an unforgettable culinary experience, be sure to book ahead at Le Bec au Cauchois!

log_normandie_gb1For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

Normandy’s Black Pudding Festival

One of my favourite comfort foods for the wintry months is black pudding, so I was really happy to set off to the Foire au Boudin annual black pudding festival this time last year. This three-day food fest is a well established event in the Normandy calendar and aficionados have been heading to the boudin ‘mecca’, Mortagne-au-Perche in the Orne region, every spring for over 50 years.

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© Orne Tourisme

Originally the festival had come to my attention when I listened to the excellent weekly radio show, the Food programme on BBC Radio 4, and had whet my appetite to see for myself just what the fuss was about.

Mortagne-au-Perche is a pretty town in the Perche Natural Regional Park, the Cotswolds of Normandy (FYI there is a wonderful weekly market held every Saturday morning). A gentle stroll through the winding, medieval streets reveals the kind of stylish French town houses in sandstone with their own courtyards that I would just love to own … Look out for the sundials quirkily scattered throughout Mortagne-au-Perche. As the town is just over a two-hour drive from the capital, this quaintly rural part of Normandy is a popular bolt hole for discerning Parisians at the weekend. The undulating countryside is perfect for rambling and cycling and antique bargain hunters will love the local brocantes. A particular favourite haunt of mine is the beautiful old court house, appropriately named the Hôtel du Tribunal, which in addition to being a very comfortable hotel, is a top-notch restaurant whose chef enjoys incorporating boudin into many of his recipes.

Every year the festival highlights are the prizes for the best international black pudding and the person who is able to eat the most black pudding! As Mortagne-au-Perche is home to many a charcutier specialising in the fine art of boudin making, there is lots of yummy local produce to tuck into. You can amble around the local food stalls, nibble at the free offerings and taste some unexpected food combinations with the ubiquitous boudin. Or for those who enjoy a sit down meal in the company of the locals, head to the food tent and grab a seat on the tressle tables. The rustic set menu includes local meat and boudin grilled on the barbecue, a slice of camembert and apple tart, all washed down with a glass or two of cider.

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© Adèle Lamiroté

The love affair between black pudding and Mortagne-au-Perche goes back centuries and there is a special chapter of local charcutier and boudin specialists in the town, la Confrérie des chevaliers du goûte boudin de Mortagne-au-Perche. They are to be seen in their ceremonial robes and velvet hats around the fair and are the proud organisers of the international black pudding competition.

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© Adèle Lamiroté

The rest of the family enjoyed the fair rides and the slightly incongruous zumba demos after lunch. The Hip Hop battles I left to the experts. On the Monday afternoon, there is a boudin fair bike race through the surrounding countryside and streets. So for those who might overindulged over the three day fair, this would be the perfect moment to work off those extra calories!

This year’s Foire au Boudin takes place this weekend from Saturday 18th to Monday 20th March – for more information, click here. For general information on Mortagne-au-Perche, visit the tourist office website.

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© Mortagne Tourisme

log_normandie_gb1For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

The Shepherdess of the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel

When Stéphanie won a week’s holiday in the Manche département of Normandy in 2004, she didn’t much like the countryside and the only exercise she got was during her commute through the Paris Métro. Today, her life as a shepherdess of the famous salt-marsh lambs in the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel is a far cry from her former life as a graphic designer in Paris.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

When she first came to this area of the Manche during that fateful holiday in 2004, Stéphanie was struck at the unique landscape here  – she was surprised at how beautiful it was. During the week she met a local shepherd who told her about his work and the very traditional and pure approach to raising sheep.

Over the next couple of years, Stéphanie would return to this area at every opportunity until finally it seemed only logical to come and live here on a permanent basis. She attended agricultural college to learn the basics and five years on, had a flock of some 180 sheep over two sites just outside the village of Saint-Germain-sur-Ay at the tip of the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel.

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© Eric Lorang

The lamb that is raised on the salt-marshes of the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel is unique because the animals feed only on the grasses and herbs of the marshland. These herbs are filled with nutrients, vitamin E and iodine from the sea water that regularly floods the land. Raised only on these herbs, the sheep take longer to grow and are strong with long, lean muscles due to all the walking they do in search of the tastiest herbs.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

Part of the land where her flock stays is an ecologically protected area of marshland. Here Stéphanie has to regularly move her sheep from one end of the land to the other so that the grass has a chance to grow and attract native birds that are in danger of extinction.

Stéphanie sells her lambs to the butcher when they are about a year old. The result is exceptionally good free range meat that has a very a distinctive taste.

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© T. Houyel / Normandy Tourist Board

Unlike her life as a designer in Paris, here on the salt marshes, Stéphanie feels a great freedom as a shepherdess. The irony being that her livelihood is completely dependent on her flock and that she can’t leave them even for a night. Missing the social interaction of city life, Stéphanie decided to organise guided walks onto the marshland as a way to meet locals and visitors and explain life as a shepherdess. She was surprised at how many locals have joined her group walks – having never before ventured out onto the salt-marshes for fear that it wasn’t safe, they offer her another view on local life in the Manche.

Embracing her new life and work, Stéphanie has applied her creative side to other aspects of her job. After the sheep’s winter coats are sheared, she dyes the wool and knits colourful wrist warmers and headbands that she sells along with jellies and vinegars that she makes using the herbs from the salt-marshes.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

Using the tougher meat that the butchers are not interested in, Stéphanie makes merguez sausages that she sells locally (and eats herself!) She records her life as a shepherdess on a beautifully illustrated blog and on summer evenings, she has been known host parties in her hut, with live music as the tide rolls in across the bay. Sign me up!

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© Eric Legrand

For more information 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

 

Give a Xmas cheer, Rouen Givré’s almost here

Rouen is a firm favourite with tourists to Normandy. There’s just something about those multi-coloured, half-timbered houses, and gothic churches on every street corner. As French cities go, the ‘city of 100 bell towers’ (as Rouen was once called by French writer Victor Hugo) is up there with the prettiest of them.

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© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès / J.F. Lange

For that reason, it came as no surprise to me to learn that Rouen pulls out all the stops when it comes to Noël. The festive fun, known as ‘Rouen Givré’ [Frosty Rouen] takes place over one week on 24‑31 December, and is well worth the ferry crossing/train journey. We’re talking masses of magical street lights here, all over the medieval city centre. In fact, more than eighty streets and squares are lit up for Christmas in Rouen. That’s a lot of light bulbs!

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© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès / J.F. Lange

Best of all is the traditional Christmas market which takes place in front of Rouen Cathedral. This is Rouen at its finest – around 70 chalets selling local produce (cheese, cider, caramels…) as well as traditional arts and crafts, jewellery, nativity figurines and Christmas tree decorations galore. Have you ever wanted to hang a miniature Camembert on your Christmas tree? Well, now you can.

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© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès / J.F. Lange

And mulled wine? Forget mulled wine.* At a Normandy Christmas market, there’s mulled cider in abundance, made with delicious apple juice and just the right amount of cinnamon. Those feeling brave could even go for hot Calvados and honey, a somewhat Norman take on a hot Toddy.

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© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès / J.F. Lange

Having exhausted the foodie options at the market, I then headed over to the Place du Vieux Marché. Dominated by the huge modern church of Saint Joan of Arc, this square is where the doomed Maid of Orléans met her fiery fate. Between 24 November and 8 January, it is also home to a big wheel, from which you can enjoy a breath-taking panorama over Rouen’s higgledy-piggledy rooftops, the Gros Horloge (Rouen’s ornate astronomical clock) and the gothic towers of Rouen Cathedral.

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© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès

The big wheel also has the added bonus of being on the same square as the oldest inn in Rouen, in fact, the oldest inn in France, La Couronne, which dates all the way back to 1345! Hiding behind a traditional half-timbered façade is a medieval world of wooden beamed ceilings, lead framed windows, worn upholstered chairs and heavy red curtains. It was like stepping back in time. Picking up the menu, I realised why the place had been such a hit with Sartre, Dalí, John Wayne and Princess Grace of Monaco, and why it’s so popular to this day! Lobster, langoustine, lamb… my mouth was watering just looking at the options.

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© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès

I decided to go with the menu recommended to me by Rouen Tourism Office, the ‘Saveurs Impressionnistes’ [Impressionist flavours] taster menu. Dishes included Normandy beef, some more of that famous Camembert, oysters caught in the Manche, Rouen-style duck marinated in the popular Normandy aperitif Pommeau, and they just kept on coming.

I left the restaurant, and Rouen Givré, feeling fulfilled, full and slightly thankful that I didn’t live in foodie Rouen all year round… I would certainly be considerably larger if I did!

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© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès / J.F. Lange

For a full list of activities going on during Rouen Givré, visit: www.rouen.fr/rg2016 (website in French only)

log_normandie_gb1For information on travelling to Normandy, visit: http://bit.ly/howtogettonormandy

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

*For those with an aversion to appley goodness, there is mulled wine as well.