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.

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

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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.

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

 

 

 

 

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.

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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!IMG_0587 - Copy.JPG

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!

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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.log_normandie_gb1

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

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!

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.log_normandie_gb1

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

 

A spot of tea at the Maison du Biscuit

Not far from the D-Day Landing beaches in the heart of Normandy’s scenic Cotentin Peninsula lies the Maison du Biscuit in Sortosville-en-Beaumont. Every year, some 500,000 visitors make a stop here; not for the charms of the quaint village, but in search of the perfect biscuit.

Like something out of a dolls house or film set, the Maison du Biscuit occupies a row of buildings whose façade takes you back to a typical shopping street at the turn of the 19th century. I visited on a grey afternoon in autumn and the warm twinkling light from inside seemed very inviting.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

Stepping into the shop, I was greeted with mouth-watering aromas of chocolate and almonds. Inside, the oldie-worldie theme continued. There was a bustle of activity as shoppers explored the nooks and crannies all filled with mouth-watering treats and staff danced around helping customers with their requests.

The family-run Maison du Biscuit has been refining its recipes since 1903, when Paul Burnof first opened his boulangerie in nearby village La Haye du Puits. Over five generations, recipes and techniques have been tried, tested and refined and passed on from father to son. Each generation developed a specialty, from bread, brioche and patisserie to biscuits and chocolate. The business has expanded to today’s huge success but this has not been without its challenges.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

Chefs and bakers in Normandy are hugely fortunate to have an abundance of quality produce available from the region. Even in post-war Normandy, when third generation Maxime ran the boulangerie-patisserie, eggs, butter and flour were available and by mixing in a bit of sugar, he started the family’s first line of biscuits. The locals were delighted and the business flourished, becoming the Biscuiterie du Cotentin.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

When son Marc then took over the business, he was approached by a supermarket chain who wanted to stock these biscuits. Soon after the contract was signed, Marc and his wife Carol were faced with a dilemma. The supermarket put pressure on them to add preservatives to their products in order for them to last on supermarket shelves. Unwillingly they obliged but soon felt that this compromised the integrity of their craft and decided to abandon the business that their family had worked so hard to grow.

After a two-year break and plenty of reflection, Marc and Carol were ready to start again. The hallmark of their new business would be quality local ingredients with no additives or preservatives to produce exceptional artisan products made with that family savoir-faire. This all began in their tiny 10m2 garage. With no shop of their own, they travelled around the region selling their cakes and biscuits at farmers’ markets. The all-essential second-hand van in this early operation was even paid for in biscuits! Three years later, Marc and Carol found an old ruined dairy and decided to transform it into their shop.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

The tiny shop opened in 1995 and as word spread, demand grew and they slowly expanded their premises. During renovation works, Marc and Carol happened upon archive photos of the row of village shops in the early 20th century and they decided to renovate the building facades to take it back to how it looked once upon a time. The colourful façade, beautiful interior and quirky details such as an old cash register and piano used as furniture to showcase products, make shopping here a pleasurable experience.

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Want to see the Maison du Biscuit for yourself? Visit their website for information. For more details on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

Chevalait, the magic of mare’s milk

For as long as she can remember, Belgian-born entrepreneur Julie Decayeux has always loved horses. Her parents both loved horses and she learnt to ride at a young age. She realised that she had a particular affinity with large-set horses when she was given a Welsh cob as a teenager – they instantly had a connection.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

While working in a museum dedicated to educating people about animals close to extinction, she learned about the plight of draught horses, a breed used less and less in agriculture, and ever since, has felt her life’s calling was to find a way to protect these endangered species. Wanting to combine this passion with her entrepreneurial flair, she left Belgium for Normandy some fifteen years ago with an idea and a hell of a lot of ambition to see it through. A region famous for its horses and synonymous with dairy production, it was the ideal place for to set up a farm on which to produce horse’s milk, or mare’s milk, to give it its official name!

With her new husband, Julie carried out some market research to see if milking horses would work as a business. She researched how to best preserve and treat the milk and developed a business plan over 18 months. Once she had decided what she wanted and where she was going to look, it took a mere three weeks to find a farm! It was love at first sight. While its hilly ground made it difficult to grow anything, the farm was perfect for keeping horses.

That was nine years ago now, and Julie and her husband have risen to the both the professional and personal challenges of running a farm. Since 2014, Julie has been producing chevalait (which translates literally to horse’s milk), and the main products she makes from it are cheese (soft, hard and cream), ice cream (green tea and vanilla flavours) and even a range of mare’s-milk-based cosmetics! In 2015, Julie ran a stall selling ice cream and other products at the World Equestrian Games at the Le Pin National Stud, which was a huge success. She also runs stalls at Orne Terroir, an event celebrating local products, and other foodie events.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

So why horse milk? Julie was always allergic to cow’s milk, so mare’s milk seemed a good alternative for her. She grew up on mare’s milk and milked horses from a young age. She never gave her sons cow’s milk for fear that they had her same level of intolerance. As a result, both of her sons were both brought up on horse milk – for them it’s normal.

In Spain, mare’s milk has been used for medical purposes, and has been available in small quantities in hospitals ever since a Spanish doctor with diabetes discovered mare’s milk and claims that it saved his life. Told that his time was up at the age of 40, his liver and blood count were in a terrible state and he was obese. Having read good things about mare’s milk, he drank 500ml/day for three months without changing his diet or lifestyle. He lost 30kg over this time and was regularly monitored with blood tests.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Horse milk has also been shown to help against chromes disease and diabetes, and drinking 20ml everyday can combat depression because of its high levels of serotonin. “If 10% of all milk given to babies was mare’s milk it would combat so many 21st century diseases,” says Julie. “It holds incredible potential in the medical field!”

Julie insists that she would never say anything against cow’s milk but she’s concerned about the way it is over-produced, how the cows suffer and the type of feed given – the corn is not good enough quality and it’s not what they should be eating. It is clear to see that the horses she rears are like her children, and she cares for them as if they were. To avoid the horses getting ill, her and her husband take great care of them – massaging them, giving them homeopathy, aromatherapy and herbs should they need it. In 90% of cases, this approach either avoids or solves any medical problems the horses encounter. It also ensures that the mare’s milk stays organic; should they need to give medication to the horses, they wouldn’t be able to milk them for one month afterwards. “The animals must be well looked after, strong and healthy to produce milk of high quality,” says Julie.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Admittedly, there wasn’t a great demand at the start of Julie’s venture, but with 115 mares and 8 litres of milk produced a day, they’re now the biggest producer of mare’s milk in Normandy, and the only farm to produce fresh mare’s milk throughout the year! So what does mare’s milk taste like? Julie prepares me a sweet crêpe, made with mare’s milk. “It can be used in cooking, just like normal milk,” she says, as she serves me the crêpe, accompanied by a glass of mare’s milk. “For me, it’s now the only milk I use!”

Biting into the crêpe, I honestly couldn’t tell the difference. Taking a sip of milk, I am struck by how much lighter in consistency mare’s milk is than cow’s milk, altogether more refreshing and less heavy. There was also a flowery, almost herbal taste about it. I concluded to Julie that I could definitely take this over normal milk any day; after all, I’d be supporting a local business, humane treatment of animals, organic production and an endangered species of horse… reasons enough if any!

Julie’s chevalait is sold in 300 organic shops across Europe, including France, Belgium and Spain. To find out more about mare’s milk and Julie’s farm, visit the Chevelait website.

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

Teurgoule: the queen of rice puddings

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.

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© E. Benard

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.

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© E. Benard

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.

Bon appétit !

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© Calvados Tourisme

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

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.

A day for Camembert

Today, on what would have been her 256th birthday, Google is paying homage to Marie Harel, the inventor of Camembert. So what better a day to write a post on this most mighty of cheeses?

The most popular story about the creation of Camembert  is that it was developed in 1791 by Marie Harel, the wife of a local farmer. This was at the time of the French Revolution, and it is said Marie was very much helped in her endeavours by a priest hiding out in these parts, but who had fled his native area of Brie outside Paris, which by that point was already known for its cheese production. The priest gave Marie a recipe used in Brie, which resulted in the formation of a crust around the soft cheese. Low and behold, Camembert was born! During the Second World War, Camembert formed part of the rations given to French troops, making it a much‑loved national symbol. Normandy Camembert received its protected appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) status in 1983.

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© Francis Cormon / Normandy Tourist Board

What a lot of people don’t realise about Camembert is that it is actually named after the place where it was invented. A visit to the village of Camembert provides a wonderful glimpse of authentic, rural Normandy, as the surrounding areas of the Pays d’Auge and the Pays d’Ouche are predominantly agricultural. With traditional farms surrounded by fields and orchards, and the famous bespectacled cows grazing in the nearby fields, it all makes for an extremely picturesque pastoral scene.

I arrived in Camembert one sunny September afternoon and was greeted by the famous road sign – a photo opp in itself!

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© E. Ursule / D. Dumas / Normandy Tourist Board

Behind the road sign sits a pretty nineteenth-century building known as the Maison de Camembert, which houses a museum. Here I was to discover the process for making Camembert as well as the cheese’s colourful history, from the time of Marie Harel and the priest to the time her grandson served Camembert to Napoleon Bonaparte, from Louis Pasteur to the First World War. My favourite bits of the museum had to be the moment when you stepped into a room with a large window looking out onto the beautiful Pays d’Auge valley, as well as an exhibition of all of the different artwork used on Camembert boxes over the years, which boasted French household names like Lepetit, Lanquetot, Besnier and Buquet. It’s not hard to see why people would collect cheese labels – no-one does food quite like the French!

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© Fran Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

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© Fran Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

After my visit to the museum, my stomach was beginning to rumble and I was keen to taste the real thing. The museum boasts a fantastic souvenir shop where visitors can buy regional products like Camembert (of course), apple juice and chutneys to take home with them. As I eyed up a rather appealing box of Durand Camembert, produced by the last fromagerie in the village to produce AOC Camembert (my next stop in fact), I was rewarded by the sight of a lady approaching me with a plate with not one, but three types of Camembert! This was all part of the Camembert experience, I was told.

Feeling rather content with my lot, I settled down in the sunshine with my cheese and cup of cold apple juice, and got stuck in, making a mental note to grab that Durand cheese on my way out – I’m sure I could make room for it at dinner…

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© Fran Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

The Maison de Camembert is open between 1 March 2017 and 31 October 2017 and tickets cost €3.50 per person. For opening hours, visit: www.maisonducamembert.com/en/maison-du-camembert-acces.html

The Fromagerie Durand is open all year round from 10 until 6pm (Monday to Saturday) and a tour plus tasting costs €6 per person. For more information, visit: www.facebook.com/pg/FromagerieDurandlog_normandie_gb1

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

Les Saisons, a belle époque bistrot in the beautiful Pays d’Auge

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.

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Normandy cows © Calvados Tourisme

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.

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Andouille © Calvados Tourisme

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.

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Teurgoule © Normandy Tourist Board

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?log_normandie_gb1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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