Apple, cider and cheese, what more do you need?

Autumn in Normandy means food festivals galore. As one of France’s biggest apple-growing regions, there are apple festivals across the region almost every weekend in September and October! Last September, I accompanied a journalist on a trip to research the traditions behind Normandy’s ubiquitous apple. Our travel plans happily coincided with the popular Fête de la Pomme, du Cidre et du Fromage [Apple, Cider and Cheese Festival] in the pretty town of Conches-en-Ouches, so we decided to stop by.

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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches

It was a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon and as we arrived in Conches, we realised that the word was out – cars were parked on every spare bit of pavement. After circling the main town square several times, we found a parking place and then followed the crowd. After descending a winding flight of stairs to the bottom of the valley, we arrived at the festival. The event takes place in a huge park that was bathed in sunshine. Hundreds of people had gathered and there was a sense of festivity in the air and, of course, apples everywhere.

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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches
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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches

We grabbed a cup of delicious apple juice and wandered on, before coming across a stage where traditional dances were being performed in traditional Norman costume. Between the dances, a presenter was talking the spectators through the different outfits, much to everyone’s amusement.

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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches

We moved on to the market stalls to browse the fabulous fare from producers who had come to Conches from all across the region. I spotted a couple of people whom I had already met, including Patricia of Les Saveurs Retrouvées, who had by now sold the vast majority of her macaroons, and the Cidre de Glace stall was doing a roaring trade. I also recognised the familiar faces, or fabulous costumes rather, of the Confrèrie des Goustes, aka the apple pastry brotherhood.

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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches

As we left the park, queues were beginning to form next to the food stalls and the vast seating area, bathed in autumnal sunshine, was packed. There was a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, as families chattered over a cider and some cheese and foodies caught up on the latest culinary innovations from the region. All in all, it was the perfect food festival and we wished we didn’t have to leave so soon, but we knew that as we were in Normandy, another appley adventure was sure to be waiting for us just around the corner!

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The Fête de la Pomme, du Cidre et du Fromage takes place on Sunday 29th October this year so be sure to stop off if you’re over in Normandy for half-term! For more information on food festivals in the region, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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Cover photo © philipimage / Fotolia.com | Writer: Maggie McNulty

The Fête du Ventre, Rouen’s biggest food festival

Every October, one of the biggest farmers’ markets you can possibly imagine, arrives in Rouen for the Fête du Ventre et de la Gastronomie Normande [Festival of the Stomach and Norman Gastronomy]. As the name would suggest, this two-day festival is a foodie mecca, with hundreds of producers from across Normandy setting up stalls in and around Rouen’s Place du Vieux Marché. Thousands gather in Rouen for the occasion – in 2015, the event attracted some 150,000 people – so you can imagine the buzzy festive atmosphere!

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© Philippe Deneufve

A large part of the old town is completely cut off to traffic and row after row of beautifully presented stalls sell a huge variety of produce. I visited Rouen last year to join in the fun and spent a fabulous few hours browsing, chatting to producers, sampling their wares and stocking up on some of the best foodie products from the region.

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

En route, I passed street performers and a procession of small ponies touring children through the back streets of the city. There was a huge range of produce, from fruit and vegetables to snails, jars of duck confit and even wild boar.

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© Andrea Solter

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

I then popped into the tent for a quick culinary demonstration. Here, chefs from some of the Rouen’s top restaurants prepared local specialties in front of a packed audience eager to learn new tips and watch the masters at work. When I headed back into the thick of the action, there was a group of people dressed in period costume dancing outside the church of Joan of Arc on the Place du Vieux Marché.

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© Philippe Deneufve

I wandered back through the crowds and turned a corner to hear a group of musicians, dressed in animal onesies play jazz numbers that had everyone clapping and dancing along. Finally, once I’d done various rounds of the stalls, sampled my fair share of food and bought treats for everyone back home, it was time to park up outside a café, sit back and enjoy some people-watching!

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

Cover photo © Philippe Deneufve | Writer: Maggie McNulty

 

 

 

10 reasons we can’t wait for All the Sea on a Plate

1. The Toute la Mer sur un Plateau [All the Sea on a Plate] festival takes place on the port of Granville, meaning that you can pretty much eat fresh fish and seafood straight off the fishing boats…

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© M. Coupard / Fotolia

2. Granville is France’s number 1 shellfish port, so if anyone can put on a cracking shellfish-themed festival, it’s certainly this town!

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3. Last year, no fewer than 50,000 people flooded into Granville for this popular festival – we reckon that’s an endorsement if any.

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4. Several tons of oysters, scallops, mussels, shrimps, whelks and lobsters are caught and brought into Granville for the festival, where visitors can then enjoy them with a refreshing glass of kir.

5. All the Sea on a Plate attracts not just Frenchies, but people hailing from all over the place (including my three journalists and me!) so the event has a real cosmopolitan feel to it.

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6. Live music will be played all weekend right on the quais, so why not enjoy a jog to a sea shanty or two?

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© Pierre Jeanson

7. Also on the agenda are cooking workshops, a food market, tastings, activities for children, film screenings and an exhibition that looks into the life of a fisherman.

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8. Around the harbour is an assortiment of restaurants and food stalls, so visitors can dine al fresco and look out over the picturesque port, whether from a terrasse or one of the many benches set up especially for the festival.

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9. In addition to all the fab food on offer, you can also peruse the many wine, clothes and arts and crafts stalls, and take back home some souvenirs of Granville.

10. You could even make the most of your stay by visiting the Christian Dior Museum, which is currently hosting an exhibition dedicated to the famous designer’s childhood in Granville and his 22 post-war collections.

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

‘All the Sea on a Plate’ takes place on Saturday 30th September and Sunday 1st October. For more information, visit the Granville Terre & Mer website.

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

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All photos © Normandy Tourist Board unless otherwise stated | Cover photo © Kevin14 / Fotolia | Writer: Fran Lambert

Foraging for mushrooms in the Orne

The prize: the Cèpe d’or, or rather, the Golden Porcini mushroom in English, though that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it… No, this particular mushroom is not edible, but you can win it at the Mycologiades Internationals, the International Wild Mushroom Festival, which takes place at the end of September in the village of Bellême, the home of all things mushroom in Normandy.

Often in autumn, I’m stuck for ideas on what to do – winter’s on its way, and the bad weather with it. Of course, it is apple season in Normandy but I’m looking for other fresh foodie ideas. Why not mushrooms? I can already picture the colours of the forest and hear the crunch of leaves under my feet!

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© J. E. Rubio / Normandy Tourist Board

Since 1953, the International Wild Mushroom Festival in the Perche Regional Natural Park has been welcoming visitors on a mushroom foraging quest led by a mycologist (that’s a mushroom expert to you and me). So it was that my friend and I took a basket one Sunday last autumn and played Little Red Riding Hood for the weekend. After the mushroom foraging, all of our foodie treasures were laid out and we were given a presentation on all of the different mushrooms that we had found. Alas, our efforts were not quite enough to win us the coveted Golden Porcini, but we were proud of ourselves, and now felt far more confident about telling the difference between edible and poisonous mushrooms!

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© J. E. Rubio / Normandy Tourist Board

I could well have enjoyed eating some tasty mushrooms at the festival but there was a nearby mushroom hot-spot that I wanted to try whilst I was in the Perche: La Tête Noire restaurant in the nearby village of Saint-Germain-de-la-Coudre. Only 15 minutes from the International Wild Mushroom Festival, La Tête Noire offers an intimate, buzzy atmosphere and serves fresh food sourced from local artisan producers. In keeping with the theme of the day, I opted for the restaurant’s speciality: soft-boiled eggs with fried wild mushrooms. Yum yum, it tasted like grandma’s homemade cooking and gave a real taste of Perche terroir.

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© J. E. Rubio / Normandy Tourist Board

At the end of our dinner, the waitress passed our table with some mouth-watering dauphinois potatoes with mushrooms and Normandy cream – it smelt irresistible! When I saw the couple who had ordered it enjoying their meal, I knew I should not miss out on this experience – that’s what I’ll be ordering next time! One strawberry baba dessert later, I left the restaurant, pleasantly full and satisfied with my lot, readier than ever to face the coming week.

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© Joe Gough

This year, the International Wild Mushroom Festival takes place from 28 September to 1 October, and offers all sorts of fun mushroomy activities like exhibitions, seminars, and of course the Cèpe d’or competition! If you are interested in taking part in this foraging extravaganza, visit the website to sign up: www.mycologiades.com (website in French only).

Alternatively, if you fancied an autumn ramble in the forest and a leisurely lunch at La Tête Noire, why not browse the Perche Regional Natural Park website for walking routes and book a table? Bon appétit!

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

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Cover photo © J. E. Rubio / Normandy Tourist Board | Writer: Marie Buchet

A pinch of Normandy saffron

Trug basket in hand, Myriam Duteuil carefully scans her saffron beds, assessing which of the crocus blooms are ready for harvesting. She carefully picks flowers that pass muster, taking care not to remove leaves with them as that can damage the bulb (or corm) beneath. Each flower yields just three of the precious red stigmas that are extracted and dried to make saffron strands.

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

This precision method of harvesting, hard on the knees and back and unchanged from images on Minoan frescoes from 3,500BC, combined with a regular cycle of replanting each summer to ensure a steady supply of flowers, and the need to plant and weed by hand, helps to explain why the ‘spice of joy’ costs more than gold.

None of this deterred Myriam – the daughter and grand-daughter of farmers – when she decided to return to her roots and grow apples and saffron organically at the Domaine de Gauville, in St-Pierre de Salerne, south-west of Rouen.

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© William Crossley

She bought the farmstead a decade ago, while working as a TV executive in Paris. During a long broadcasting career she devised and then ran Cuisine TV, France’s main food channel, but six years ago decided to change tack. ‘Saffron has an exotic image,’ says Myriam. ‘Most of the world’s supply comes from Iran, but it really needs cool, moist conditions to grow well. The ideal temperature is about 15°C, so Normandy is a good place for it.’

Saffron was widely grown across Europe in the Middle Ages, when it was prized for its medicinal qualities. The East of England was a key centre for production and the flower gave its name to the Essex town of Saffron Walden.

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

Myriam planted 21,000 bulbs in 1.2 hectares of beds in 2012, gathering her first harvest in 2015, and plans to expand the area she cultivates to two hectares. The saffron crocus blooms in autumn, with the harvesting period lasting about four weeks, usually in October. ‘I pick in the early morning, before the flowers open,’ says Myriam. ‘A skilled picker can collect 1,000 flowers in an hour, which will produce 5g of saffron. I dry the flowers and then open them to extract the stigmas.’

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

Her harvest yields about 700g of saffron a year. A kilogram is worth about £25,000. Total annual production in France is 150kg, a figure that pales by comparison with the 30 tonnes a year produced before the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century.

Myriam sells her saffron packaged as strands for both professional chefs and home cooks to use in their dishes, along with a range of saffron-flavoured preserves, biscuits, cake, mustard and vinegar under her Biâo Pur Safran de Normandie brand (Biâo is the Norman dialect word for beautiful). Another customer is a local dairy, which makes delicately-flavoured saffron ice cream.

She is keen to encourage people to make more use of saffron in their cooking: ‘It used to be used by so many people in everyday recipes, but now in France it is mostly used by chefs or in seasonal foods for Christmas, particularly in Normandy.’

Her top tip when buying saffron is to look for strands that are deep red in colour. If it looks brown or yellowy it has been over-dried or is too old to use, or may have been adulterated.

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

Myriam emphasises saffron’s versatility in the kitchen, for everything from a Moroccan-style morning tea infusion using a single strand, to a risotto, paella or a sweet apple cake. She recommends three strands per person in a sweet dish, six per person in a savoury dish and nine per person in a paella or with shellfish.

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© William Crossley

She adds: ‘As well as using the right amount, saffron should always be infused in a liquid before it is used in a dish – water, stock, milk or cream – and added five to 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time to add flavour. If you are making risotto, put the saffron in some stock the night before. Rehydrating dried saffron liberates the flavour and colour.’

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

For those keen to learn more, Myriam runs two-day cookery classes in a professional-standard kitchen at the farm, including visits from local chefs and bakers, with accommodation provided in the farmhouse, which can also be rented as a gîte. You could even help out with this year’s harvest, but book soon to avoid disappointment!

For more information about the Domaine de Gauville and Biâo Safran de Normandie, visit the Domaine de Gauville website (in French). For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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This copy has been reproduced courtesy of the Oxford Times.

Cover photo © Normandy Tourist Board | Writer: William Crossley

 

 

It’s a family thing: Camembert with a twist

It’s not every day that a new cheese hits the stalls. In this case, we can’t exactly say that the variety itself is new, as we’re taking about Camembert, but read on and you’ll understand what we’re all excited about.

A year ago, Charles Bréant and his four brothers decided to open a cheese production line in a bid to diversify the family farm located in Bermonville, at the heart of the Pays de Caux, north west of Rouen. Instead of inventing a new variety, they chose to go back to basics and settled on making Camembert, Normandy’s most famous cheese. The idea wasn’t revolutionary, but it marked the opening of the only Camembert production site in the Seine-Maritime département.

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© Le 5 Frères

‘Fifty years ago, there were still many producers in Seine-Maritime,’ explains Charles. ‘However, most of them disappeared when Camembert was granted AOC [Controlled Origin Certification] status in 1983.’

What makes the Bréant family’s cheese so special then? First, it’s a Camembert fermier, meaning the entire production process is completed on the farm. All the milk comes from the family’s own herd of 200 dairy cows, and Charles knows exactly what they’ve been fed. Only raw milk is used, and the cheeses are moulés à la louche (moulded by ladle), just as they should be. After a month’s ripening, they are boxed and packaged on site, bearing a very distinctive label. Unlike most Camembert boxes, which picture a lazy cow or an idyllic Norman village, the Bréant brothers’ logo is minimalist and trendy. ‘We really wanted to try something different and our main aim was to target a younger audience with our packaging,’ says Charles. The blue and white triangles sure do stand out!

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© Charles Bréant
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© Le 5 Frères

As for the name of the cheese, it speaks for itself: Le 5 Frères. The family cut to the chase and Charles swears that the name isn’t just a gimmick: ‘All five of us really do work on the farm and we all have different tasks to complete.’ At present, 150 Camemberts a day are produced on site, but the number is growing month by month. ‘People really enjoy the product and word of mouth is our only marketing and sales strategy at the moment,’ Charles explains. Le 5 Frères is mainly sold at local markets, cheese shops and épiceries fines, and is also on the menu in several restaurants across Normandy.

Now that Normandy has fallen for their tasty Camembert, Charles and his siblings would like to introduce the product to British cheese-lovers. ‘We are working with a distributor and we would both love to start exporting our Camembert to the UK,’ says Charles. In the meantime, if you want to meet the team, taste the cheese or stock up for the winter, head to the Fête du ventre et de la Gastronomie normande [which literally translates to ‘Festival of the Stomach and Norman Gastronomy’]  on 14-15 October in Rouen, where the brothers will be running a stall. And if you’re ever passing by Bermonville, near Yvetot, when you’re next in Normandy, why not pop in and see the family-run farm for yourselves?

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© Le 5 Frères

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

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All photos © Tesseraud / IRQUA-Normandie | Writer: Ben Collier

Love food? Love Le Havre!

When you think of foodie destinations in France, Le Havre is not exactly what springs to mind. Yet this buzzing coastal city in Normandy is fast finding its feet as a popular weekend destination for foodies, families and francophiles. Not only is it super simple to travel over to Le Havre from the UK – a mere 6-hour ferry from Portsmouth, to be precise – but the city is also celebrating its 500th anniversary this year, so there’s all sorts of fun to be had there.

Le Havre’s concrete facades lend a modern feel to the city centre, 90% of which was destroyed during the Second World War and completely rebuilt in the years that followed. Designed by Auguste Perret, a leading architect of the time, pristine low-rise blocks give us a remarkable sense of space here not often found in cities – the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville is one of the largest squares in Europe, and the Avenue Foch, which leads down to the beach, is wider even than the Champs Elysées. So impressive is Perret’s post-war reconstruction that in 2005, UNESCO classified Le Havre’s city centre a World Heritage Site.

But back to the food! As you might expect, being by the sea, Le Havre boasts a whole host of places to eat fish and seafood. It is also a great place to savour all the Norman classics, and showcases local specialties such as marmite dieppoise (fish stew) alongside meat dishes, topped off (of course) with an apple tart. From the rue Racine and the Saint-François quarter in the city centre to the bars and restaurants lining the beach, there is certainly something to suit everyone’s tastes.

So whether you fancy fish or could murder some meat, the following recommendations have got you covered!

Le Grignot

Opposite Le Volcan [The Volcano] in Le Havre’s bustling bar and restaurant district, Le Grignot is one of the most famous brasseries in Le Havre. Specialising in seafood platters, delicious traditional recipes and organic food, its dishes are seasonal and cooked fresh. Grab a table on the terrace and enjoy views of the Volcano, which lights up blue at night!

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Situated right on the promenade overlooking the beach, Saison 2‘s unfussy menu features classics such as burger and chips, meat and two veg, and the must-have dish when at the beach in France: moules-frites. Enjoy with a glass of chilled white wine while watching the sun set over the sea – what better way to spend an evening?

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Le Grand Large

A little way out of town in the stylish neighbouring town of Sainte-Adresse, Le Grand Large, which means the open sea, boasts a maritime menu of epic proportions against a a panoramic view of the Channel. Be sure to try the prawns with citrus fruit followed by this restaurant’s pièce de résistance, the mighty marmite dieppoise.

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Le Bouchon Normand

The word bouchon may make you think of Lyon, but fear not, this restaurant is all Norman! With all ingredients sourced in the region, a particular favourite of ours is the feuilleté de pommes tatin Pont l’Evêque (that’s apple and cheese puff pastry to you and me). For those especially partial to a bit of pomme, there’s also apple tart on the menu…

La Taverne Paillette

Founded in 1596, the Taverne Paillette is almost as old as the city of Le Havre, and is therefore a local landmark in itself. Serving food throughout the day, seven days a week, this lively restaurant is renowned for three things, its delicious seafood (to which we can attest), its sumptious sauerkraut and its refreshing home-brewed beer. Santé !

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Le Bistrot des Halles

Right on the market square, Le Bistrot des Halles is somewhat of an institution in Le Havre. With its parquet floor, wooden bar and wall plaques, it is the very epitome of what we Brits think of as classic French décor and with its vast selection of tasty salads, main courses (we opted for sea bream) and desserts, its food doesn’t disappoint either!

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If you’ve got a taste of Le Havre and now fancy a foodie break there, click here for more inspiration! The city’s 500th anniversary celebrations are going on until 5th November this year so don’t miss out on all the fun!

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

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Photos © Fran Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board | Writer: Fran Lambert

A lesson on Livarot

Exactly 15km from its famous cousin Camembert, the village of Livarot has its own star: the Livarot cheese, which celebrates its 107th birthday this year.

Although Livarot is situated in the département of Calvados, oddly enough it was a farmer from the Orne, named Eugène Graindorge, who made the first Livarot cheese in 1910. The story goes that he started to develop his business by collecting milk and cheese from his neighbours and maturing them in the small village of Livarot. Later, his son Bernard helped expand the Graindorge dairy so much between 1940 and 1980 that Livarot cheese started to appear on the menu in Parisian restaurants. Nowadays, Eugène’s grandson is in charge of the Graindorge Family Dairy and still makes cheese that has been granted Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) status.

Foire aux fromages à Livarot.
© Thierry Houyel

Now, you probably already know that French people love and respect their cheeses. But did you know that Livarot is nicknamed the Colonel Cheese?

I know what you’re thinking: Don’t make such a big deal out of it, it’s just cheese! (or should I say n’en fais pas tout un fromage!) But this nickname in fact comes from the initial way in which this cheese was made.

You may have noticed the ridges on the sides of this orange cheese. These are prints made by the sedge leaves (usually three or five) used to hold the cheese together during the maturing process and maintain its shape. And that’s why the French call Livarot cheese the Colonel – its markings look like the stripes on a military uniform!

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© Graindorge
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© Calvados Tourisme

If you want to enjoy a good AOC Livarot cheese, I really recommend that you go to the Livarot Cheese Fair. This year’s event takes place this weekend on 5 and 6 August, and it’s well worth a visit. Last year, I was lucky enough to go, and let me tell you, I never tired of walking through the picturesque village streets, enjoying the aromas of cheese, cider and grilled meat! Luckily, it’s not an option to refuse free samples from local producers (after all, I don’t want to be rude), especially when those samples are French cheese!

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The Livarot Cheese Fair typically starts with everyone having a drink together, followed by cookery lessons using Norman cheeses (you can find a nice recipe below). This year marks the 30th anniversary of the fair, and to celebrate the occasion, there will be a parade, complete with brass band. There will also be the famous Livarot eating contest on Sunday morning, surely my favourite bit of the fair! The goal is to eat a 750g Livarot cheese as quickly as possible. The record, set in 2012, is 1 minute and 51 seconds. If you’re at the fair this weekend, why not give it a go?

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© Eric Lorang

With so much food for thought, you won’t be leaving the Livarot Cheese Fair empty-handed, so here’s one of my favourite easy cheesey recipes for you to try with your own Livarot:

Egg cocotte with Livarot and pumpkin

Ingredients

  • 100g Livarot cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • 20cl single cream
  • 100g diced pumpkin
  • 1 packet of lardons
  • nutmeg
  • butter (for greasing)
  • salt and pepper

Method

  • Dice the pumpkin and boil in 20cl salted water
  • Once cooked, drain half of the liquid and mix the diced pumpkin and the single cream into the remaining liquid
  • Preheat oven to 150°C
  • Fry up the lardons
  • Grease four ramekin dishes (or similar) with butter
  • Pour the pumpkin and cream mixture into the ramekins
  • Add the fried lardons and nutmeg, and season to taste with salt and pepper (bearing in mind that the lardons are salty)
  • Break an egg into each ramekin and add the diced Livarot (no rind)
  • Place the four ramekin dishes in a shallow pan of warm water (a bain-marie) and cook in the oven for 8-10 minutes
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© Shutterstock

The Graindorge Family Dairy is open Monday to Saturday from January to October (for exact times, refer to the Graindorge website) and runs guided tours and tastings for €3.30 per person.

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

Cover photo: © E. Graindorge | Writer: Marie Buchet

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

Eggcellent omelette at La Mère Poulard

A thousand years of history, faith, and talent have shaped the Mont-Saint-Michel, the ‘Wonder of the West’. Legend has it that in 708, the Archangel Saint-Michel appeared before Bishop Aubert and commanded that a sanctuary be built on Mount Tombe, an island in the middle of the bay that saw some of the highest tides in the world.

Thus the Abbey of the Mont-Saint-Michel was built, and over the coming centuries a village grew up around it. The Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay has since become a site of spiritual and cultural pilgrimage for Christians and non-believers from all over the world, so much so that in 1972, UNESCO classified them both as a world heritage site.

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© L. Leloup / Normandy Tourist Board
5725-Mont-Saint-Michel (c) E. Ursule - Normandy Tourist Board
© Normandy Tourist Board
6955-Looking over the Bay of the Mont-Saint-Michel (c) D. Dumas - Normandy Tourist Board
© D. Dumas / Normandy Tourist Board

Today, the famous La Mère Poulard restaurant and inn on the Mont-Saint-Michel is an important part of this world heritage. In 1888, local lass Annette Poulard, previously a chamber maid at the abbey who had married the local baker, opened an inn in the medieval village on the mount. Annette became renowned for her culinary talents, and over her lengthy career at the inn she rustled up some 700 different dishes, from savoury delights (more on that shortly) to her famous biscuits. Her efforts earnt her the title of ‘Mère’, reserved for exceptional cooks. Lo and behold, ‘La Mère Poulard’ was born!

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© Christopher Brown / The Curious Collection

One thing in particular for which La Mère Poulard is renowned is her famous omelette, which is somewhat of an institution. But did you know that it was never intended to be anything more than a starter? In the nineteenth century, guests at the inn (for the most part, pilgrims) were only able to reach the mount at low tide, so would arrive at the inn at all hours of the day and night. When they arrived, Annette would quickly prepare her special omelette as an appetiser before cooking her guests a more substantial meal.

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© Christopher Brown / The Curious Collection

That same fluffy, souffléd omelette is served at the restaurant to this day, and anyone can watch the omelettes being made over the open fire. Firstly, eggs are beaten for at least five minutes until they’re light and fluffy. The mixture is poured into a copper skillet and cooked over the open fire until the bottom is browned, but the inside is still slightly frothy. The omelettes are served either plain or with a choice of bacon, potatoes, Camembert (naturally), ratatouille, foie gras, shrimps or lobster.

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

Combining tradition and simplicity, La Mère Poulard’s omelette was surprisingly contemporary for its time, and is still seen as one of the most original French dishes. For this very reason, the restaurant remains one of the most best known in France and across the world. As many as 4 million French and foreign tourists and gourmets come to the Mont-Saint-Michel each year, and most visit either the restaurant to sample La Mère Poulard’s delicious omelette or the biscuit shop across the road to buy her tasty biscuits.

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

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Cover photo © Christopher Brown / The Curious Collection | Writer: Fran Lambert