Fruit fest along the Seine

This is the time of year when the living is easy in Normandy…

Last June, my husband and I decided to set off for a short break in search of scenery, good food and some relaxation before the school summer hols began. We headed down the River Seine and followed the Normandy Fruit Trail from Notre-Dame-de-Bicquetuit to Duclair. We went at a leisurely pace and spent the day driving the 40 miles within the Boucles de la Seine Normande Regional Nature Park, taking in the fruit orchards, chalk cliffs and thatched cottages.

 

There are cascades of fruit blossom in the spring and these translate into juicy cherries from June onwards and plums a little later on in the summer.  Strawberries, redcurrants and raspberries then come into season and can be bought directly from the local growers along the trail. The trail is dotted with ready-made stalls at the entrance to farms with freshly picked fare for sale straight to the hungry visitor. In autumn, the colours change as does the fruit when pears and apples come into their own.

 

Another highlight for us was the weekly market at Saint-Martin-de-Boscherville, where we stocked up on cheese, baguette and Mara des Bois strawberries for the last course of our al fresco picnic.

 

This stretch of the Seine has its own micro-climate and, thanks to its fertile soil, has proven a perfect location for fruit growing, a practice dating right back to monasteries in the Middle Ages, when apple and pear tree orchards were established. The fruit trail also coincides with the Abbey Route, so history buffs can delight in a visit to the amazing Saint-Georges-de-Boscherville Abbey, with its formal rose gardens and architectural simplicity. Next stop is the must-see Jumièges Abbey, christened ‘the most beautiful ruins in France’ by local boy made good, Victor Hugo. We decided to treat ourselves to an overnight stay in Jumièges at the four star Le Clos des Fontaines, which boasts an outdoor pool, and headed into the village for a gastronomic dinner at Auberge des Ruines.

 

There is a handy online fruit trail booklet to guide you on your travels through this fruit fest. So whether you prefer the fun of hopping on and off the free ferry which crosses the Seine as you go from bank to bank, or you are of a more sporty persuasion and prefer to walk or cycle along the trail whilst tasting the fruit, the Normandy fruit trail is a great way of soaking up the local flavours and ambiance (and then burning off some calories)!

 

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

 

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.

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

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!

This post was written by our lovely guest writer, Gillian Thornton. To read more of Gillian’s work, visit her website.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.

 

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.

The Tale of the Norman Ale

If you thought that Normandy was all about cider and calvados, then think again! Following the national trend for craft beer, the region has seen several new brands launch in recent years, the most emblematic of which being La MIN (Made In Normandy). With its retro look and its logo representing the Mont-Saint-Michel, it has a real Norman feel to it and is starting to trend in Parisian bars and hip grocery stores.

The story began just two years ago, when childhood friends Julien, Alexandre, Jocelyn and Cédric decided to create a beer that honoured their roots. The bunch grew up in Yvetot, at the heart of the Pays de Caux, a town they still call home despite living and working in Paris now. Whilst travelling around Europe during their studies, they noticed that they were always offered local craft beers in the bars and pubs they visited – something they didn’t encounter much at home. Back in France, they contemplated collaborating on their own ale, and after several months of planning, paperwork and development, La MIN was born.

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© La MIN

What took the boys the most time was trying to get the taste just right. They managed to give the beer a very distinct and individual character, with a clear amber-golden colour and earthy, musty aromas complete with hints of citrus and honey. It comes with an ABV of 6.5% and is neither filtered nor pasteurised. La MIN is currently brewed at the Brasserie De Sutter in Gisors, a small town in the Eure region, but the four friends have big plans for the future. They are planning on buying a spacious farmhouse near Yvetot, in which their own brewery will be built. They will then be able to control the entire production chain, increase volumes and expand business activities.

La MIN is already served from the tap in several Parisian bars and is of course available in numerous cafés, pubs, clubs and grocery stores across Normandy, as well as in Intermarché supermarkets. A great place to get your hands on the brew is at the Fête du Ventre, one of Normandy’s main food festivals, held every October in Rouen. The boys run a stand there each year and serve thirsty customers hundreds of litres of their beer.

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© La MIN

After satisfying the French taste buds, Julien, Alexandre, Jocelyn and Cédric are now hoping to introduce their unique Norman ale to the UK, where demand for new craft beers is high. Keep an eye out for the bottle on the shelves at your local!

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© La MIN

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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.

Cidre de Glace, the new Norman aperitif

Cidre de Glace is the new aperitif that’s been taking the Normandy foodie world by storm. Originating in Quebec, this new apple tipple is stronger than traditional Norman cider, is lightly syrupy in texture and has a delicious aromatic flavour.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

In the Eure and Seine-Maritime regions of Normandy, an association of cider farmers has been working together to develop and promote a Norman Cidre de Glace. I visited two of these producers – Gérard Lenormand at his farm, Le Clos des Citots in Heurteauville across the Seine River from Jumièges Abbey and Marie Bourut at le Manoir du Val farm near Beaumesnil – to find out more about the new drink that everyone’s talking about.

The association produced its first line of Cidre de Glace in 2013. Marie explained that part of their motivation for developing this new drink was that cidre fermier is always popular in Normandy but is considered a rustic, country drink and sales remain static. With Cidre de Glace, the association wanted to create a high-end product that would spark a new interest in apple-based drinks.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Cidre de Glace was first discovered in Quebec in the 1990s when, instead of picking apples in the autumn before the frosts came, the apples were left on the tree to endure temperatures that could fall as low as -40°C. In January, the apples were picked in still freezing conditions, by which time the fruit was completely dehydrated. When the frozen apples were pressed and the juice slowly fermented, the result was a more concentrated, alcoholic cider.

With Norman winters much milder than in Quebec, the association worked on an alternative way to create a similar product. In late autumn, the apples are picked and pressed. Their juice is then frozen to -22°C and left for three weeks to form a giant ice cube where the water settles in the centre and the apple concentrate forms an outer layer. When this is slowly defrosted, the apple concentrate is collected and then slowly fermented cold to produce an alcohol at 11.4%.

When seven of the association’s cider farmers worked together to launch Upper Normandy’s Cidre de Glace in 2013, they produced 3,000 bottles. Two months later, they were sold out. Gérard told me that the success was in part, thanks to the French media taking great interest in their product. When people tried it for themselves, they loved it.

In 2014, another three farmers from the association joined the Cidre de Glace campaign and this time round, they collectively produced 10,000 bottles to sell in farm shops, restaurants and shops throughout the region.

All farmers in the association use the same packaging and work collaboratively on the promotion of the drink, but their farm is clearly identified on the label. From one farm to another, the flavour of the drink can vary greatly. Gérard told me that in his second year of production, he experimented by producing the concentrated alcohol of three separate types of apple – sweet, bitter and sharp – and finally mixed them together to create a balanced and harmonious flavour.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Finally, it was time to try some Cidre de Glace and see for myself what made it so special. Light, delicious, rich and yet not too sweet, I could imagine drinking this very chilled, yet Gérard assured me that it is best served between 8°C and 10°C and is particularly good paired with foie gras, cheese or an appley dessert. I brought back several bottles and friends have been thrilled with this new discovery. I just hope stocks last for my next visit to Normandy!log_normandie_gb1

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

Fine dining at the Logis de Brionne

My most recent (foodie-themed) press trip took me to the Logis de Brionne, a restaurant and hotel situated in the town of Brionne, 50 km south-west of Rouen.

Cosy and inviting to look at, the Logis sits opposite Saint-Denis Church, within easy walking distance to the town centre. We were greeted by the hotel owner, Joëlle, and shown to our rooms where my journalists promptly settled in for a quick forty winks before dinner. Preferring to take advantage of the open fire downstairs, I curled up in a large armchair and ordered myself a glass of tasty local cider to while the time away.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Coming to sit with me, Joëlle tells me that her husband Alain is the Chef at the Logis, and that thanks to the elegance and innovation of his cooking, the restaurant is proud to feature in the Michelin Guide. All vegetables come from either the Logis’ own vegetable garden or the market garden at the nearby Ferme des Amaranthes, a certified organic food supplier. All meat and fish is sourced locally, fruit is delivered from Jumièges, and chocolate from Normandy’s very own Maison Cluizel. Alain even uses organic saffron grown at the nearby Domaine de Gauville for one of its signature dishes, coquilles Saint-Jacques au safran. And of course, he makes all his own bread from scratch.

“Cooking using ingredients from your own garden not only combines practicality with pleasure, but also stimulates your creativity – it’s all about looking after yourself and nature,” Joëlle tells me, as my journalists emerge from upstairs, looking somewhat more lively.

We are led to our table in the middle of what was surprisingly a full restaurant. It being November, I had expected us to be among the only customers in the room, but it would appear that Alain Depoix was renowned in the region!

All menus at the Logis are changed each month based on the availability of quality, seasonal products. We went for the Taster Menu (Menu Dégustation), which consisted of an amuse-bouche, starter, main, the all-important cheese course and dessert:

Mascarpone and truffle amuse-bouche

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

Fish terrine wrapped in artichoke, topped off with savoury shortbread and caviar accompanied by salad and green tomato chutney

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

Caramelised apples with guinea fowl, with Alain Depoix’s famous foie gras

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

Cheese platter – all the Norman classics (Camembert, Neufchâtel, Pont-l’Évêque and Livarot) plus Comté, Tomme de Savoie, Munster, Valençay and oh-so-creamy Chèvre

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

Panna cotta with pistachio mousse

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

Throughout our meal, the attentive staff at the Logis kept our glasses full (French wine, naturally) and were there to explain what everything was and how it was prepared. It was truly a pleasure to meet people who so clearly knew and loved their food!

At the end of the meal we were in for another surprise, when who should come out to meet us but Chef Alain Dupoix himself. It was the perfect opportunity for the journalists to ask him all their foodie questions and of course, take some photos. All in all, an absolutely delicious dining experience and Joëlle and Alain were the perfect hosts. We retired to our rooms, pleasantly full and definitely already looking forward to breakfast the next day!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

The Logis de Brionne hotel and restaurant is open all year round. The restaurant is open for lunch from 12pm until 1pm and for dinner between 7:30pm and 9pm. A set lunch menu starts at €22 and a set dinner menu starts at €39.50. The restaurant is closed on Saturday lunchtimes, Sunday evenings, Mondays and Tuesday lunchtimes. Hotel rooms start at €88 per night (breakfast: €13).log_normandie_gb1

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

Bénédictine, made by the monks

Normandy is famous not only for the production of delicious cider and Calvados, but it is also home to the world-renowned Bénédictine liqueur. The origins and preparation of this tipple are shrouded in mystery, so I popped along to the Palais Bénédictine in Fécamp to see if I could shed some light on the puzzle.

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© Palais Benedictine, Fécamp

In spite of its name and grandeur, the Palais Bénédictine is not a palace in the normal sense of the word, nor is it an abbey. Instead, this fabulously Gothic-Renaissance self-appointed Palais is where the famous herbal digestif Bénédictine is distilled.

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© Palais Benedictine, Fécamp

The Palais also operates as a museum showcasing not only the production of Benedictine but a huge part of the building is dedicated to an eclectic collection of artwork. Alexandre le Grand, the man behind today’s Bénédictine, amassed this collection when he struck gold and discovered the recipe for this drink.

The story of Bénédictine began in 1510 when a Venetian monk, Dom Bernardo Vincelli, came to stay at the abbey in Fécamp. Vincelli brought with him the recipe for an elixir that used 27 herbs and spices available in Venice, the 16th-century gateway to the Orient. Thanks to their friendship with the monks of Venice, the abbey in Fécamp continued to make this herbal syrup until the monks were chased out during the French Revolution in 1789.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Alexandre le Grand’s grandfather had been the accountant of the abbey in Fécamp and the last monk to flee entrusted many of the abbey’s books to him. Nearly a century later, in 1863, Alexandre le Grand discovered, in his family library, the book that contained this mysterious recipe.

After hunting down the 27 herbs and after many attempts, le Grand successfully recreated this liqueur. He called it Bénédictine in memory of the monks. A savvy businessman, le Grand wasted no time in patenting the name, recipe,bottle and label and in marketing Benedictine around the world. When profits started rolling in, he started work on the Palais to house the distillery and his growing collection of religious artwork and relics. The original Palais burnt down in 1892, just four years after its inauguration. This only fuelled le Grand’s ambition to build a bigger and better Palais, completed in 1898, which is where I came to find out more.

I toured the Palais with the brilliant guide Françoise. We started with the religious artworks and the Palais’ stained glass windows that told the story of Bénédictine.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Next, we headed down into the lower ground floor to discover part of the distillery. Today three different variations of Bénédictine are produced here and just a handful of people know the recipes and method – Françoise names only a few of the 27 herbs used in the original – angelica, hyssop, cloves, cinnamon, arnica. Françoise talked me through the process: four different herbal preparations are infused for up to fifteen hours and then distilled or double-distilled depending on the ingredients. These four preparations, now known as ésprits, are then mixed together and blended with water, honey, sugar, caramel and an infusion of saffron. This final mixture is double heated before being aged in large oak barrels for four months, filtered and then bottled.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

The visit of the distillery takes you through a room with the giant copper stills that date back to Alexandre le Grand’s time. We passed several alembics and went through one of the twelve cellar rooms where the oak barrels are working their magic for the ageing process. I asked Françoise  how much Bénédictine is produced each year but for fear of industry spies, she was not allowed to reveal trade secrets.

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© Palais Benedictine, Fécamp


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© Palais Benedictine, Fécamp

Once we’d left the distillery, it was on to the bar, where I sampled three different variants of Bénédictine. The original Bénédictine is the sweetest, next is B&B Brandy, devised in 1937 – this is a little dryer but is still the original 40%. Finally, there was the B&B Gold Stamp – it’s much more oaky in flavour after being aged six years longer in smaller, younger casks. Sold only at the boutique in Fécamp, it’s much more exclusive. All three variants were deliciously herbal and incredibly Christmassy.

With that in mind, a few months later, back in London with Christmas fast approaching, I received a call from Caroline, Marketing Director for Bénédictine in the UK. Caroline was keen to take me to a French restaurant near Hyde Park which served fabulous food and drink, and most importantly, Bénédictine cocktails!

In the name of research, I headed down to Angelus (nearest tube station Lancaster Gate) to see what all the excitement was about. I joined Caroline at the bar, where a rather delicious Bénédictine Sours, complete with glacé cherries, was being prepared by the bartender and cocktail connoisseur, Christophe.

I had never tasted anything like it! Lemon and lime juice, mixed with a couple of drops of angostura bitters, a drop of syrup to offset the bitterness, followed by three shots of Bénédictine and one shot of Maker’s Mark bourbon. The result was an incredibly tasty, thirst-quenching drink that was neither too sweet nor too sour, but just right. Best of all, it was perfect for the festive season. I jotted the recipe down and made a mental note to try it at home, adding an optional egg white before shaking it all up.

So, if you fancy a fabulously festive Bénédictine cocktail this Christmas period and can’t make it over to Fécamp, never fear, you can also savour the delights of Bénédictine right here in the UK!

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© Normandy Tourist Board

For more information on the Palais Bénédictine, visit: http://benedictinedom.com

log_normandie_gb1For more information on Angelus London, visit: www.angelusrestaurant.co.uk

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