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.

 

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.

The Shepherdess of the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

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.

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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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

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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© Normandy Tourist Board / Thierry Houyel

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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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

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

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

 

How about a glass of poiré this Xmas? Normandy’s take on bubbly…

A picturesque medieval walled town overlooking the Varenne river, Domfront grew up around the strategically situated stronghold Domfront Castle in the sixth century. It was here that the dispossessed Henry Beauclerc, youngest son of William the Conqueror, rallied support among local lords and was eventually crowned Henry I of England in 1100 and Duke of Normandy in 1106.

At the crossroads where the regions of Normandy, Brittany and the Pays de la Loire meet, the Pays de Domfront is Normandy’s cider country and is known for its pear orchards, which are unique in Europe. Poiré (pear cider) produced in the Pays de Domfront is classified as AOP. It is the perfect accompaniment to every course from aperitif through to dessert and is particularly popular as an alternative to champagne/crémant during the festive period! I decided to visit one of the 20 producers of Poiré Domfront, Frédéric Pacory, who runs the Ferme des Grimaux cider farm with his wife Cathérine, to see what all the fuss was about.

These days, the surname ‘Pacory’ is inextricably linked to the Ferme des Grimaux, which lies deep in the heart of the Pays de Domfront. Boasting an abundance of apple and pear trees, this 49-acre plot of land was bought by Calvados connoisseur Marcel Pacory , Frédéric’s great-great grandfather, in 1939. So self-sufficent and impassioned by cider production was Marcel Pacory that he actually built his own tractor from scratch!

Marcel’s three sons, Paul, Claude and Marcel, were brought up running the family business alongside their father, and in 1953, Claude and Paul took over the farm. The Ferme des Grimaux was originally famed for the production of Calvados Domfrontais, which is very different from the Pays d’Auge Calvados that you might see on supermarket shelves in the UK, on account of the high percentage of poiré pears used along with cider apples, the soil (granite ad schist) and the single-pass distillation process. Domfront Calvados also differs from other Calvados appellations, thanks to its floral, fruity, mineral character. In 1971, the Fermes des Grimaux won the coveted first prize for Calvados production across all of Normandy. Six delicious Calvados samples, ranging from 1 to 12 years in age were judged by an expert panel, and the grand prize was presented by the President of the French Republic himself!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

In 1960, Claude’s son Frédéric was born. By this point, farmers across France were beginning to hope that their offspring would embark on careers that didn’t involve farming, and Claude was no different. Frédéric studied a Baccaauréat in Science; however, his love for his heritage and and the family business led him back to agriculture, and he went on to study at Le Robillard Agricultural College near Caen. It was here that he met fellow cider enthusiast and future wife Catherine, who was also from the Pays de Domfront! Frédéric bought his uncle Paul’s share of the farm and in 1986 he took over the Ferme des Grimaux with Cathérine. The Ferme des Grimaux has since received several awards, in particular for its Calvados Domfrontais and its Poiré Domfront.

It is the Poiré Domfront that I have come to try today. Arriving late one afternoon in September, Frédéric greets me with a big smile and takes me on a tour of the orchards. ‘We must always remember that these pear trees are not ours but those of the generations who came before us,’ he tells me. ‘We are moving into modernity, but we must always respect and appreciate this rich heritage that came before us. Sometimes, when I am kneeling down, collecting and sorting pears, I think to myself how those who came before me did exactly the same over a century ago!’

It certainly would seem that the Ferme des Grimaux has moved with the times while retaining those all-important links to its past. Today, the farm has 800 pear trees and 600 apple trees, spread across 247 acres of land. This includes the original 49-acre plot where the oldest trees can be found, some of which are approaching 300 years old! As Frédéric tells me, the proverb goes: ‘100 years to mature, 100 years to bear fruit, 100 years to die’.

Poiré Domfront is a traditional drink which is the result of fermenting pear juice. There are 90 varieties of poiré pears, but the variety that surpasses them all is the plant de blanc. Juicy and acidic, Frédéric tells me that the Ferme des Grimaux uses mostly this variety, which gives Poiré Domfront its distinct flavour: fruity, aromatic, slightly acidic and naturally sparkling.

Stages of production (taken from the Poiré Domfront website)

1. During October and November, the pears fall from the trees and are collected by hand or by machine.
2. After sorting and crushing, the pears are pressed to produce a pale gold juice with a distinctive floral bouquet.
3. Placed in vats, the poiré slowly ferments over a period of three to four months under the watchful eye of the producer.
4. Fermentation continues in the bottle where the pears’ natural yeasts create the bubbles.
5. To be accredited the AOP label, batches of Poiré Domfront are tested by a panel of experts.

After my tour of the orchards, Frédéric treats me to a tasting session. I try out four types of Poiré Domfront produced at the Ferme des Grimaux, ranging in taste, quality and price, from the Poiré Fermier, tasty, fruity and not unlike good old scrumpy, to the more refined Poiré Domfront, which can only be described as refreshing, fruity and sparkling, not unlike a glass of bubbly!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

‘Your favourite?’ asks Frédéric. ‘It has to be the most expensive one!’ I reply. It was like nothing I’d ever tasted. I had always imagined Normandy pear cider to be like the pear cider you’d find in a pub in the UK: synthetic-tasting, overly sweet and not very pear-like. This was the complete opposite. It dawned on me that there was a whole world of poiré-related fun out there – poiré as an aperatif, poiré with fish or chicken, poiré with dessert, poiré for special occasions…! The possibilities stretched out before me. I promptly bought a bottle of each type of poiré for good measure.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

So there you have it, Poiré Domfront in a nutshell, the drink I never knew about that I now can’t get enough of! I simply can’t wait for my glass of poiré on Christmas Day now…

The Ferme des Grimaux cider farm is open all year round. Simply email Frédéric and Catherine in advance to arrange your visit – f-et-c.pacory@wanadoo.fr – and stock up on poiré, cider, aperitifs, juices and Calvados galore!

log_normandie_gb1For more information on the Ferme des Grimaux, visit: http://www.pacory.eu

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.