Mad for madeleines

This weekend, France celebrates Saint Madeleine’s Day on 22 July. I should confess to having a particular soft spot for madeleines; not only do I love eating the melt-in-the mouth cakes but my teenage daughter is called Madeleine. This first name seemed an obvious choice for a little Brit born and growing up in France as it was understood on both sides of the Channel… but back to the cakes! Legend has it that a certain ‘madeleine’ made the very first of the said cakes for pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and she used a scallop shell mould, the symbol of the route, to give the madeleines the distinctive shape they have to this day.

 

Normandy boasts its very own madeleine producer, the Biscuiterie Jeanette 1850. Based just east of Caen in Démouville, this company has been making biscuits since 1850 and, like most businesses, has had its ups and downs over the years. In 2015, the workforce together with the financial backing of a local entrepreneur Georges Viana, determinedly fought off bankruptcy  to save its 150 years of traditional savoir-faire. The new company is now going strong and is a real local success story. One of the main reasons for this is their supremely yummy madeleines, which combine the traditional cake with quirkily modern flavours such as almond, chocolate, pistachio and citrus fruits. A luxury range of madeleines, created for Jeanette by the master chef, Philippe Parc, comes in flavours like Damas rose, Asian citrus fruits, chocolate with pistachio, rapsberry, mandarine and vanilla, and a range of organic madeleines is new for 2017. And now I have whet your taste buds, would you like to know where to get hold of these madeleines?

  • Visitors to the Jeanette factory can take full advantage of its shop, which is open on weekday afternoons from 1pm to 6pm and on Saturdays from 10am to 5pm
  • Elsewhere in France, Jeannette madeleines can be found in many outlets across Normandy and in the surrounding areas
  • Outside France, madeleine enthusiasts can get their fill by ordering via the Jeannette mail order service (shipping overseas is possible on request)

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Now for a little cultural history with a madeleine moment. Marcel Proust, the author of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, sets a key scene in the novel around the sensory experience of eating the madeleine and drinking the tea offered by his aunt, which makes the narrator go back to his childhood memories. Room 414 on the 4th floor of the sumptous Grand Hôtel in Cabourg was Proust’s summer home for seven summers in a row from 1907, where he retreated to Normandy from the heat and hubbub of the capital. It is here that he is said to have written much of the A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. If you would like to sip tea and nibble on madeleines like Proust’s character, why not treat yourself to a few days in the Grand Hôtel in the very room which inspired the novelist? Situated on the promenade, the Grand Hôtel is a wonderful place to stay, combining five-star glamour with the informality of a family-friendly,  seaside hotel. The Sunday buffet lunch is a banquet fit for a king with its seafood spread being the highlight for me, together with the tinkling musical accompaniment from the regular pianist on the resident baby grand.

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© L. Leloup / Normandy Tourist Board
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© Grand Hôtel Cabourg

Finally, here is a short video which shows you how to make your very own madeleines if you would like to celebrate in spirit with me and my daughter this weekend: www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOIiR_zYbEc

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© YouTube / Gourmandize UK & Ireland

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And if your madeleines are a storming success, why not enter the amateur madeleine baking competition held in Cabourg this September at the tea room La Maison Dupont avec Thé?

Bon appétit et bonne fête Madeleine !

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

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All photos © Biscuiterie Jeannette 1850 unless otherwise stated | Writer: Alison Weatherhead

Calvados Busnel, a family affair

Did you know that until the beginning of the 19th century, Calvados was just a drink that was produced on farms to be enjoyed with the family rather than sold? I was keen to learn all about this most Norman of tipples, and decided to pay a visit to the Busnel Distillery, the first major Calvados distillery in France, found in 1820 by Ernest Busnel in Pont-l’Evêque.

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Ernest started out his career by distilling apple eau de vie in his cellars, producing what would eventually become the apple brandy we know today as Calvados. Some time later, his son Georges took over the business and gave his name to the distillery and brand. Somewhat of a perfectionist, Georges was keen to select the very best apples for his Calvados. ‘No good Calvados without good apples,’ he would say. Every day he would oversee the complex distilling process and scour Normandy countryside for new spirits. It is said that Georges went as far as to mix twelve spirits together, all of different vintages, on his quest to find the perfect blend.

George’s son Pierre was also to fall under the spell of Calvados. At an early age, he developed a passion for distilling, and in 1927 he started running the family business with his father. By this point, Calvados Busnel was being distributed throughout France. In 1938, the Busnel distillery became the sole supplier of Calvados to the famous transatlantic liner the Queen Mary. Already a national brand in France, bottles of Calvados Busnel started crossing the Atlantic to be enjoyed by American consumers. By 1960, Busnell was the premiere Calvados supplier in France.

At the end of the 1970s, the Busnel Distillery expanded and took over a cider factory in the village of Cormeilles. Here it has remained ever since, the result of four generations of skilled Calvados producers which has evolved into a successful tourist attraction offering a unique insight into the family business through a guided tour of the distillery.

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© Distillerie Busnel

We started our tour with a short film telling the story of the Busnel family. Next, we were shown the cider apples as they were gathered in the yard, waiting to be washed and pressed into apple juice.

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We were then taken to the fermentation and distillation room. After pressing, the juice is poured into the tanks in this room, where it remains for 3 to 6 months. Thanks to the natural yeast found in the apple skins, the apple juice ferments (i.e. the sugar gradually turns into alcohol) to become cider. Fermentation depends mainly on the climate. The milder the winter, the faster the fermentation is, and vice versa. Although the cider produced during this process is not intended to be sold, it is important that it is of a high quality, otherwise it will not produce good Calvados.

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Distillation begins once the apple juice has turned into cider (which contains around 6% alcohol) Between January and June, the smell of hot apples lingers in the air, as the cider is heated and then condensed in order to filter out all of the alcohol and aromatic flavours. The longer you distill the cider in the still, the more complex its flavour will be and the more you can sell it for. Single continuous distillation takes place in what is know as a column still, whereas double distillation takes place in a traditional alembic pot. More prestigious vintages such as the AOC Calvados Pays d’Auge are distilled twice to produce more complex flavours, whereas other types of Calvados are only distilled once, and retain a fresh, clean apple flavour as a result.

The liquid that emerges from the still is known as eau de vie, and contains about 70% alcohol. It can only be bottled two years after distillation (or even later than that, as mentioned above) so during this period, it ages in oak casks and becomes more aromatic, thus turning into Calvados. As time passes, floral and fruity notes mix with almond, vanilla, dried fruit flavours and hues of liquorice. Unlike many types of Calvados, the Calvados produced at the Busnel distillery does not have a very woody taste, as this was thought to mask other flavours. Once bottled, the Calvados does not develop any more in taste and can be stored for more years without going off. We took a wander around the barrel room, which stores both AOC Calvados and AOC Calvados Pays d’Auge varieties.

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Once we reached the end of our tour, we were treated to a tasting session, during which we tried the AOC Calvados, AOC Calvados Pays d’Auge, Pommeau de Normandie and the Busnel Distillery’s very own appley take on Bailey, Liqueur Crème au Calvados – I was so good I bought bttles of everything to take home!

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The Distillerie Busnel is open from 10am-12.30pm and 2.30pm-7pm every day from March to mid-November, and on weekends from November to the end of December. The guided tour can be in French, English or German and lasts about 90 minutes with a tasting session included, and costs €2 per person.

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

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Cover photo © Shutterstock | All other photos © F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board | Writer: Fran Lambert

Happiness at Le Bréard in Honfleur

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

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

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

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

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

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

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

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

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

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur / Honfleur Tourist Office

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

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

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

Eat like a king at the Étape Louis XIII

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

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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

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

 

Teurgoule: the queen of rice puddings

The ultimate in comfort foods is good old fashioned rice pudding and Normandy’s Teurgoule is no exception. I first came across this yummy local dessert when I moved here to Normandy some twenty years ago. My husband and I were invited at the last minute to stay for a typical family dinner and the highlight was the arrival at the end of the meal of a large, earthenware bowl with a rather off-putting volcanic crust covering the dish. Our hosts laughed at our reaction, broke through the crust to reveal a creamy rice pudding with a definite cinnamon kick. Since then I have been a Teurgoule convert.

The recipe is a simple combination of five basic ingredients and should ideally include Normandy’s unique creamy milk. The secret is to leave the pudding to cook at a low temperature for a good long while in an earthenware dish. Originally the Teurgoule was put in a wood burning bread oven to cook slowly in the embers at the end of the day’s baking. Traditionally the pudding is served with a brioche called fallue and a glass or two of cider.

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© E. Benard

The name mostly likely comes from the expression se tordre la gueule [to pull a face] as the pudding is piping hot when it first comes out of the oven and can catch you unawares!

Nowadays you can buy Teurgoule on most local markets and also from producers who sell direct from their farms in the Bienvenue à la Ferme scheme.

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© E. Benard

Here is the definitive recipe from the Confrérie of Teurgoule, which holds its annual Teurgoule and Fallue competition in Houlgate every September:

Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 6 hours

– 2 litres of full fat milk
– 150g rice
– 180g white caster sugar
– 1 pinch of salt
– 2 level teaspoons of ground cinnamon

Put the rice into an earthenware bowl with a 2 litre capacity.

Add in the caster sugar, salt and cinnamon and stir with a spatula.

Gently pour in the milk so that the rice stays put at the bottom of the dish.

Put the dish in a preheated oven at gas mark 5 (150°C) for one hour and then lower the heat to gas mark 3 (110°C) for four hours. The Teurgoule is ready when the dish is crusted over and the excess liquid has evaporated.

Bon appétit !

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© Calvados Tourisme

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

Foodie Caen

When it comes to food, fun and festivities, the Norman city of Caen ticks every box. Situated in the département of Calvados, famous for its apple brandy of the same name, its cider and its ripe creamy cheeses (Livarot and Pont-l’Evêque), Caen is a lively university town boasting fantastic restaurants, bars, medieval landmarks and much more.

My recent foodie press trip to Caen was organised with two key objectives -to visit the brand new gastronomy exhibition À Table! at the Musée de Normandie and to explore Caen as a foodie destination.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

Running until March 2017, the À Table! exhibition focuses on the tradition of food in Normandy from the 17th century up to the 20th century, and the pleasure that the Normans derive from sitting down and enjoying a meal together. My journalists and I were guided through several different sections, which concentrated on everything from the invention of modern and regional cuisines, the relationship between the cook and gourmet eater to the joy of eating in Normandy and even the intricacies of setting the table. A particular highlight was a vast collection of artwork used in food advertising over the years – think of all of the assorted artwork found on Camembert packets and you get the idea. There’s no-one who does food advertising quite like the French!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert
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© Archives départementales du Calvados

Following the exhibition we were lucky enough to be invited on a foodie-themed Segway tour of Caen. By this point, the sun had set and the Christmas lights had come on, making it a really festive atmosphere. Anyone who has been on a Segway before will know that it takes a little while to acclimatise but once we had got the hang of it, we were ready and raring to go! We were lucky enough to be seeing the sights with Com’On Gyro, who have just started running guided tours of the city. We opted for the ‘foodie tour’ (naturally)!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

Starting at Caen Castle, we headed to the Abbaye aux Hommes, the spectacular Norman abbey commissioned by William Duke of Normandy to appease the Pope, who opposed his decision to marry his cousin Matilda of Flanders. William the Conqueror’s tomb lies in the abbey, and is well worth a visit, although it is unclear as to how much of him is actually buried there as his grave, along with many others, was looted during the Religious Wars in the 17th century.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / Stéphane Maurice / SOCORPRESSE
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© Normandy Tourist Board / Stéphane Maurice / SOCORPRESSE

Either way, the Abbey aux Hommes, which sits proudly next to the vast and unmissable Hôtel de Ville, is a glorious example of Norman architecture at its finest, and it is testament to the skill of builders at the time that it remains in such superb condition today. December is a particularly good time to enjoy this part of town as there is a big wheel on the Espanade Jean-Marie Louvel, from which visitors can enjoy stunning views of the Abbaye aux Hommes, the Hôtel de Ville and the ruined church, Saint-Etienne-le-Vieux, a symbol of Caen and poignant reminder of the devastation suffered by the city during the Second World War.

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© Caen Tourisme

On to the beautiful Place Saint-Sauveur, just around the corner. Until 28 December 2016, Caen will be holding a large Christmas Market on this square. As well as all of the staple must-buy Norman products, there is festive mulled cider, crêpes with Camembert and assorted French sweet treats – nougat, macaroons, nuts dipped in toffee, the list goes on…

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© Caen Tourisme
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© Caen Tourisme

We turned right down the Rue Froide, so-named because this is apparently the road down which William had Matilda tied to a horse by her hair and dragged kicking and screaming after he found out that she had been unfaithful. She was allegedly treated with indifference by the street’s inhabitants, leading her to comment on what a ‘cold road’ it was. Surely not, my journalists and I protested, for it was a love match between William and his queen? Our tour guide Florence from the Caen Tourist Office responds that it could just as easily be named Rue Froide because the road runs from south-east to north-west and is a bit of a wind tunnel.

Not wanting our view of the the Conqueror and first Norman King of England to be tarnished, we agreed that it must surely be the latter explanation and were led into a wine merchant’s called BiBoViNo, where local sommelier Benoît Leclerc was waiting for us with a glass of vin chaud, bread and Camembert and some yummy tergoule (Normandy rice pudding).

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert
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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

Our foodie encounter at BiBoViNo was followed a hop and a skip next door for a glass of cidre glacé and a snifter of Calvados at La Boîte à Calva, a shop specialising in Norman products: Calvados, cider, locally-brewed beer, regional cheese and Isigny caramels, to name but a few. Suitably fed and watered, my journalists and I got back on our Segways (on which we were now quite the experts) and headed back to Caen Castle. Quite how we would now manage the next stage of the foodie press trip, namely a three-course dinner, was beyond us. One thing we were sure of, however, was that Caen was certainly tapping into its true potential as a foodie destination!

The À Table! exhibition is running at the Musée de Normandie until 5 March 2017 (Wednesday to Sunday, entry: €3.50).

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

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

All things apple in the autumn time

The village of Beuvron-en-Auge, located on Normandy’s 40-mile Cider Route, is listed as one of the most beautiful villages of France and at first glance, it’s easy to see why. With its seventeenth-century half-timbered houses and pretty village square, Beuvron-en-Auge is charmingly picturesque and looks almost like a film set.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

One autumnal Saturday night in October, I was staying at the nearby Cour du Grip – glamping, Norman style, spending the night in a calvados barrel (as you do). I was pleased to discover that I was just in time for the annual cider festival, due to take place the following morning. I popped into the village that evening to take a closer look, and indeed, in the village square I found a massive cart of apples awaiting their fate at the press!

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© Calvados Tourisme / A. Le Goff

I returned the following morning and found the village buzzing with activity. Those tonnes of apples I’d seen the previous evening were now being mushed and pressed into fresh juice by a couple of chaps wearing traditional Norman dress and a crowd gathered to watch the action.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Festival goers could sample the freshly pressed apple juice by the cup or buy a bottle or two to take home.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Lining the main street and square were producers who had come from across the region, each selling their own speciality. There was a stands selling patés and meat products, foie gras, tergoule – Norman-style rice pudding, local honey and pollen, caramelised apple cakes and a whole variety of different ciders.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty
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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Over a tannoy, an MC excitedly presented the day’s programme and introduced stall holders, interviewed organisers and entertained the crowd. And then just when I thought this fête couldn’t be any quainter, a small procession of musicians and a group of women and girls, all in traditional dress, paraded through the village, stopping in the village square and dancing in a circle until onlookers joined in.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

So there you have it, if sampling good food and drink in one of the most beautiful villages in France, you really can have your apple cake and eat it in the Pays d’Auge! This year’s annual cider festival takes place in October and is just one of the many apple-themed festivals taking place this autumn in Normandy.

For more information on the Fête du Cidre in Beuvron-en-Auge, click here.

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

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