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.

pint (c) La MIN

© 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.

fete du ventre (c) La MIN

© 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!

Bar (c) La MIN

© La MIN

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

The Wilde Kitchen Cooking School

Last year I travelled through Normandy with a group of Irish journalists to explore the region’s culinary highlights. We’d booked in for a cooking workshop at Wilde Kitchen, a cooking school run by Irish lass Sinéad, at la Blonderie, her home in the village of Benoistville.

We arrived on a Sunday evening and after checking into our rooms, we headed over to the main house for a supper of local Norman cheeses and delicious wine with our hosts, Sinéad and her Belgian husband, Philippe.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Over the course of the evening Sinéad and Phillippe, entertained us with stories of rural life in Normandy, local characters and the many culinary traditions on the Cotentin Peninsula.

The next morning we started our day bright and early with coffee and croissants before heading off to the market in the medieval town of Bricquebec. We hadn’t even left the car park before we stumbled across a sheep pen surrounded by farmers talking business – there was a real sense of a rural community here.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

The market was small in comparison to other village markets but the produce was outstanding. A couple of old ladies were selling hens, a dairy stand was ladling out the richest crème fraîche from an old clay pot and huge bags laden with seasonal vegetables were going for a bargainous €5 a piece. Once we’d done the round and made our purchases, we stopped by a lady offering generous samples of her delicious homemade cakes and bought a bag before heading back to the kitchen.

market and cooking classes

© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Back at La Blonderie, Sinéad talked us through the menu and we each picked a course to prepare. As we peeled, chopped, mixed, and cooked the ingredients into our three-course feast, Sinéad flitted amongst us to offer tips and check our progress. A force of nature, this Irish lass has a good story for every occasion and had us laughing all morning. We stopped to sample some of her neighbour’s illicit 40% calvados followed by a local cidre fermier and merrily cooked and chatted as the kitchen filled with mouth-watering aromas.

wine and cooking classes

© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

A couple of hours in the kitchen whizzed by and it was soon time to sit down to eat. We were all impressed by how well each dish had turned out and how delicious it all was. I’d worked on a squash and vegetable soup served with andouille (chitterling sausage), crumbled chestnuts and a good dollop of crème fraîche. For the main course, Carolyn had expertly prepared cockerel cooked with apples, cider, calvados and cream whilst Liz had prepared a lentil casserole as a vegetarian option. For dessert, Ailish (who claimed she wasn’t much of a cake maker) pulled off a fabulous Normandy apple tart.

After a wonderful meal with our delightful hosts, Sinéad accompanied us to the nearby Ferme Auberge where François, a fellow foodie, runs a rustic restaurant.

François uses an authentic bread oven that dates back to 1789 to cook meat and teurgoule (Normandy rice pudding) that he serves at his restaurant. Sinéad has collaborated with Francois since she started her cooking school and when guests book in for the three-day course, they spend an afternoon at the Auberge, drinking cider and learning about the ancient bread oven whilst their meat is slow cooked.

Before we knew it, it was time to hit the road in search of more Normandy foodie delights. As we said goodbye to our hosts, it felt like we were leaving old friends – we would have to return again soon!

log_normandie_gb1For more information on cooking workshops at the Wilde Kitchen, visit: www.wildekitchen.net

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.

Normandy’s Black Pudding Festival

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

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© Orne Tourisme

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

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

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

Foire au Boudin - Mortagne au Perche (7845) ©Adèle Lamiroté

© Adèle Lamiroté

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

Foire au boudin - Mortagne au Perche (7444 ) ©Adèle Lamiroté

© Adèle Lamiroté

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

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

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© Mortagne Tourisme

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

Normandy salted caramels

Normandy is famous for its native breed of speckled brown and white cows that produce some of the richest, creamiest milk in France. Not only is this milk transformed into delicious cream and cheese but those with a sweet tooth will be pleased to hear that here you’ll also find a ridiculously good range of salted caramels.

In the bay of the world famous UNESCO-listed Mont-Saint-Michel, dairy farmers Sylvie and Andre launched their sweetie business, Cara-Meuh, in 2009 after an interesting turn of events. On a recent press trip, we popped into Cara-Meuh to hear how it all began.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Until April 2009, Sylvie and Andre were continuing generations of dairy farming tradition, raising Norman cattle that roamed free to enjoy the delicious herbs of the salt marshes in the summer and fresh grass in the winter. Then there was a national milk crisis in France – you may remember the dramatic photos of the road leading to the Mont-Saint-Michel flooded with milk. Sylvie and Andre were among those who poured their milk down the drain. Literally pouring away their livelihood was the last thing they would have chosen to do but as Sylvie told us, it was a powerful and symbolic act and one that attracted the international media that helped them fight their cause.

 

The crisis had erupted when supermarkets demanded more competitive prices for milk. The French mega-dairies, who package and distribute milk to the supermarkets, announced that they would drop the price paid to farmers. This would lower the price paid per litre of milk to what it had been in 1981. For small and family-run farms, this wouldn’t even be enough to cover the cost of the milk production; it was totally unsustainable. After weeks of strikes, the French government put pressure on the mega-dairies to enter into discussion with producers. A better price was agreed but it was still unattractive to the small farmer. Unwilling to abandon their herd, Sylvie and Andre looked for a way to make a profitable business from their farm. Given the excellent quality of their milk and proximity to one of France’s most visited tourist sites, they decided that there could be a market for caramels.

Cara-Meuh organic caramels are a mix between British fudge and toffees – they’re soft but chewy, creamy, and utterly delicious. Unlike most caramels, milk instead of sugar is the main ingredient in this Norman variety.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

We started our visit in an exhibition space on the upper floor of a beautiful old barn conversion next door to the caramel production room. There’s a permanent exhibition of hundreds of old cheese labels and milk bottles from the Manche region of Normandy.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

After watching a video that explained the caramel making process, we headed next door to production room. Through a glass wall we could see the huge copper vats where the milk and glucose syrup are cooked for several hours. Once the mixture had been poured out to cool, Sylvie fed it through a machine to flatten in before passing it through another machine that cut it into strips and then sweet-sized pieces. Finally, the 30kg of sweets produced from each batch were wrapped by hand, as demonstrated by Andre’s father.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Next it was onto the farm shop to sample the varieties of these delicious caramels. Housed on the ground floor of the rustic barn conversion, an old boat was used as a quirky way to display bags of the sweeties and caramel sauce. The caramels come in a huge range of flavours and we sampled just a few of the many varieties – calvados, nut, chocolate and apple – the calvados flavour was amazing – most definitely my favourite!

Cara-Meuh is open throughout the year, so if you’re visiting the Mont-Saint-Michel, this is the perfect spot to satisfy your craving for something sweet! For more information, visit the Cara-Meuh website.log_normandie_gb1

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

 

A visit to Trouville’s fish market

Last year I took advantage of Ryanair’s summer route from London Stansted to Deauville-Normandie, and took a group of journalists to the beautiful stretch of coastline known as the Côte Fleurie [Flowered Coast]. A trip to the traditional fishing port of Trouville-sur-Mer was on the cards and my local contact on the ground, Virginie, recommended a visit and dégustation [tasting] at the old fish market. A covered market hall type setting and shrimps on plastic plates was the image that came to mind, but Virginie said it was a fantastic experience and assured me that we would have a great time.

And of course, I was completely mistaken! Situated at the mouth of the Touques estuary, the fish market stalls open out onto Trouville’s main street and offer up a colourful display of impeccably presented fish and seafood. Shaded by awnings, and with jets of water spurting out at regular intervals to keep them looking fresh, you’ll find scallops, mackerel, sole, prawns, lobster, crabs, oysters and much more. Although Trouville’s fish market dates back to 1840, today’s Neo-Norman style market was originally built in 1936 and in 1991 was listed as a Historic Monument.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / Thierry Houyel

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© Normandy Tourist Board / Emilie Ursule

Fishing has always played a crucial role in daily life in Trouville. Before sea bathing ever became popular, the town lived off the fishing industry. Trouville and the neighbouring town of Deauville have also always been popular getaways for Parisians. The closest seaside resorts to the capital with a direct train link, weekends in both towns are bustling with visitors. For a final taste of the sea, on a Sunday afternoon, Parisians would buy a last sample of fresh seafood to eat on the riverside (indeed, not very French), or on the train journey home.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / Jane Norman

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© Normandy Tourist Board / Jane Norman

Sébastien Saiter, skipper, fisherman and owner of one of the fish market’s ten stalls, the Pillet Saiter, decided that there might be an appetite for a dining experience at the market itself. He set up high tables in front of his stall and invited people to enjoy their choice of fresh seafood with a glass of something delicious. So that’s where we found ourselves. It was a sunny June day and the tables filled up fast. There was a buzzy atmosphere and it felt very French as we started with an enormous plate of oysters and shrimps accompanied by a chilled white wine.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / Jane Norman

Next it was onto a fish soup that comes with small slices of toasted bread, to be covered in paste called rouille, dunked onto the soup and then covered with grated gruyère cheese; a fishy version of the classic French onion soup which was absolutely delicious! It was Sébastien’s grandmother Jeannette who first devised this popular recipe. Here, it’s served on tap and you can buy it by the jar to take it home as a foodie souvenir. These days, it’s sought after far and wide and exported as far as China.

On the next table along, fellow diners were tucking into huge towers of lobster, crab, oysters and the rest, but we were moving on to the next foodie hot spot… this was just our starter!log_normandie_gb1

Trouville’s fish market is open every day. 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.

Eat à la Végetarienne at the Maison du Vert

French cuisine is considered by many to be the best in the world, but for vegetarians, options can often seem limited.

When Debbie and Daniel came to Normandy on holiday just over fifteen years ago, they’d booked a stay at the Maison du Vert in Ticheville, a vegetarian restaurant and hotel. On arrival, they discovered that it was up for sale. When they checked into their room and took one look at the incredible view across the Touques valley, it took Debbie and Daniel approximately five minutes to offer the asking price and buy the place.

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Photo credit: M. McNulty

A re-location to France and taking on a hospitality business had not been on the cards for the couple. Shortly before that fateful holiday, they’d bought and moved into a new home back in England. They didn’t speak French and in spite of being keen cooks, they’d never run their own restaurant.

They set to work on modernising La Maison du Vert before moving onto the overgrown garden. As professional horticulturalists they transformed the 6 acres into an idyllic oasis.

When they developed their kitchen garden, they discovered that the soil here was excellent for growing top quality produce. Their organic vegetable and herb garden, berry bushes, apple and pear trees supply most of the salad, vegetables and some of the fruit for their restaurant.

My colleague Carole and I visited the restaurant at lunchtime on a stunning autumnal day. It was so warm and sunny that we opted to eat outside in the beautiful landscaped gardens. In summer I could imagine that the colours of the many flowers planted throughout the garden make a riot of colour but we enjoyed vibrant green and burnt autumnal shades.

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Photo credit: M. McNulty

After an aperitif we started our meal with stuffed vine leaves served with fresh salad from the garden and toasted seeds. Far from the usual Norman restaurant fare, Debbie told us that their cooking is inspired from all corners of the globe to keep it deliciously tasty, varied and interesting. Almost everything on the menu is homemade and apart from a few exotic ingredients that they buy on their annual trip back to the UK, they only use local produce.

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Photo credit: M. McNulty

Our main course was a potato rosti served with sweet red pepper sauce, grilled courgette, goat’s cheese and sundried tomato. Not only did it look pretty on the plate, it was absolutely delicious.

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Photo credit: La Maison du Vert

For the first three years after opening, the locals were shy to come to the restaurant and try these exotic dishes. Initially their main clientele were visiting Brits, Germans, Belgians and Dutch. Then, the French seemed to arrive, word spread and now they make up almost half of their diners. Debbie had been warned that the French aren’t too keen on spicy food but when they tried it here, they seemed to love it. She soon noticed that local customers would always choose the most unusual dish on the menu and the exotic choice was perhaps the reason they most enjoyed coming.

I continued onto dessert and opted for a ginger and honey ice cream. It was creamy, zingy: exquisite.

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During the summer months they serve afternoon tea and homemade cakes outside. The gardens are immense and are cleverly landscaped with hedges and trees to create lots of small intimate spaces with their own table and chairs.

Maison du Vert is located in Ticheville, not far from Vimoutiers in the Orne region of Normandy. The restaurant and hotel are open everyday from Easter through to mid-September.log_normandie_gb1

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