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
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© Normandy Tourist Board
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© 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

La Renaissance’s star is rising

It is not often that you get to eat in a Michelin-starred establishment. Which is why, when offered the opportunity to do just that, I jumped at it. On 1 February 2016, Arnaud Viel, chef at La Renaissance restaurant/hotel in Argentan, was awarded his first Michelin star, bringing the total number of Michelin starred restaurants in the Orne département up to three!

Fittingly, Arnaud hails from Argentan. Making his debut in Paris at the 5-star Sofitel Hotel at the Centre of New Industries and Technologies (CNIT), he went on to be a finalist in the French Dessert Championships in 1996 and the Lauréate d’Or in 1997. But he never forgot his roots, and returned to Normandy to work as a chef at Argentan’s Auberge de l’Ancienne Abbaye.

In 1998, Arnaud opened his own restaurant/hotel La Renaissance with wife Cécilia. Together, they came up with a stylish design for the hotel and devised a whole host of delicious specialties to serve at the restaurant.

So it was that earlier this month I found myself dining with three journalists and my colleague at La Renaissance, enjoying a deliciously refreshing cocktail of Calvados and tonic with lemon and lime, accompanied by what can only described as the most intricate canapé selection of foie gras, carrot purée, feta parcel with caviar and horseradish with soured cream. One word in particular came to mind – yum!

We were then led into the sumptuous dining room, which looked out onto the hotel grounds (and might I add, a rather appealing spa), sat down at our table and were presented with the menu and a delectable sorbet and popcorn amuse-bouche.

And what a menu!

Tuna tartar served with cold cucumber soup and creamy burrata cheese:

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A choice of either line-caught loin of yellow pollock with fried red onions, artichokes, wild mushrooms, oyster croquette and creamy garlic sauce or the chef’s choice of meat fresh from the market (which was pork on this occasion):

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The ‘pre-dessert’ – praline pastry, chocolate cherry lollipop and pistachio macaroon:

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And to finish, the first Gariguette strawberries of the season served with caramelised rhubard, rose, basil and strawberry and rhubarb sorbet:

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Suffice it to say, Chef Arnaud’s cooking is the epitome of haute cuisine – visually stunning and innovative – and his gourmet menus boast the best quality Normandy produce, all sourced locally and all delicious!

La Renaissance is open seven days a week, lunchtimes and evenings. To book a table online, click here. Or why not make a weekend of it, and eat at the restaurant, stay at the hotel and enjoy the spa and swimming pool? Prices start at €95/night, to reserve a room online, click here.

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

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Cover photo © Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert | Writer: Fran Lambert

Fruit fest along the Seine

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

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

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

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© Rouen Normandy Tourism & Congress / J. F. Lange
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© Rouen Normandy Tourism & Congress / J. F. Lange

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

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© Thierry Houyel / Normandy Tourist Board

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

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© Rouen Normandy Tourism & Congress
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© Pierre Jeanson

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

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© Rouen Normandy Tourism & Congress / J. F. Lange

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

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Cover photo © Pierre Jeanson | Writer: Alison Weatherhead

 

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

 

A spot of tea at the Maison du Biscuit

Not far from the D-Day Landing beaches in the heart of Normandy’s scenic Cotentin Peninsula lies the Maison du Biscuit in Sortosville-en-Beaumont. Every year, some 500,000 visitors make a stop here; not for the charms of the quaint village, but in search of the perfect biscuit.

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

Like something out of a dolls house or film set, the Maison du Biscuit occupies a row of buildings whose façade takes you back to a typical shopping street at the turn of the 19th century. I visited on a grey afternoon in autumn and the warm twinkling light from inside seemed very inviting.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

Stepping into the shop, I was greeted with mouth-watering aromas of chocolate and almonds. Inside, the oldie-worldie theme continued. There was a bustle of activity as shoppers explored the nooks and crannies all filled with mouth-watering treats and staff danced around helping customers with their requests.

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

The family-run Maison du Biscuit has been refining its recipes since 1903, when Paul Burnof first opened his boulangerie in nearby village La Haye du Puits. Over five generations, recipes and techniques have been tried, tested and refined and passed on from father to son. Each generation developed a specialty, from bread, brioche and patisserie to biscuits and chocolate. The business has expanded to today’s huge success but this has not been without its challenges.

Chefs and bakers in Normandy are hugely fortunate to have an abundance of quality produce available from the region. Even in post-war Normandy, when third generation Maxime ran the boulangerie-patisserie, eggs, butter and flour were available and by mixing in a bit of sugar, he started the family’s first line of biscuits. The locals were delighted and the business flourished, becoming the Biscuiterie du Cotentin.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

When son Marc then took over the business, he was approached by a supermarket chain who wanted to stock these biscuits. Soon after the contract was signed, Marc and his wife Carol were faced with a dilemma. The supermarket put pressure on them to add preservatives to their products in order for them to last on supermarket shelves. Unwillingly they obliged but soon felt that this compromised the integrity of their craft and decided to abandon the business that their family had worked so hard to grow.

After a two-year break and plenty of reflection, Marc and Carol were ready to start again. The hallmark of their new business would be quality local ingredients with no additives or preservatives to produce exceptional artisan products made with that family savoir-faire. This all began in their tiny 10m2 garage. With no shop of their own, they travelled around the region selling their cakes and biscuits at farmers’ markets. The all-essential second-hand van in this early operation was even paid for in biscuits! Three years later, Marc and Carol found an old ruined dairy and decided to transform it into their shop.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

The tiny shop opened in 1995 and as word spread, demand grew and they slowly expanded their premises. During renovation works, Marc and Carol happened upon archive photos of the row of village shops in the early 20th century and they decided to renovate the building facades to take it back to how it looked once upon a time. The colourful façade, beautiful interior and quirky details such as an old cash register and piano used as furniture to showcase products, make shopping here a pleasurable experience.

Want to see the Maison du Biscuit for yourself? Visit their website for information. 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

Chevalait, the magic of mare’s milk

For as long as she can remember, Belgian-born entrepreneur Julie Decayeux has always loved horses. Her parents both loved horses and she learnt to ride at a young age. She realised that she had a particular affinity with large-set horses when she was given a Welsh cob as a teenager – they instantly had a connection.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

While working in a museum dedicated to educating people about animals close to extinction, she learned about the plight of draught horses, a breed used less and less in agriculture, and ever since, has felt her life’s calling was to find a way to protect these endangered species. Wanting to combine this passion with her entrepreneurial flair, she left Belgium for Normandy some fifteen years ago with an idea and a hell of a lot of ambition to see it through. A region famous for its horses and synonymous with dairy production, it was the ideal place for to set up a farm on which to produce horse’s milk, or mare’s milk, to give it its official name!

With her new husband, Julie carried out some market research to see if milking horses would work as a business. She researched how to best preserve and treat the milk and developed a business plan over 18 months. Once she had decided what she wanted and where she was going to look, it took a mere three weeks to find a farm! It was love at first sight. While its hilly ground made it difficult to grow anything, the farm was perfect for keeping horses.

That was nine years ago now, and Julie and her husband have risen to the both the professional and personal challenges of running a farm. Since 2014, Julie has been producing chevalait (which translates literally to horse’s milk), and the main products she makes from it are cheese (soft, hard and cream), ice cream (green tea and vanilla flavours) and even a range of mare’s-milk-based cosmetics! In 2015, Julie ran a stall selling ice cream and other products at the World Equestrian Games at the Le Pin National Stud, which was a huge success. She also runs stalls at Orne Terroir, an event celebrating local products, and other foodie events.

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

So why horse milk? Julie was always allergic to cow’s milk, so mare’s milk seemed a good alternative for her. She grew up on mare’s milk and milked horses from a young age. She never gave her sons cow’s milk for fear that they had her same level of intolerance. As a result, both of her sons were both brought up on horse milk – for them it’s normal.

In Spain, mare’s milk has been used for medical purposes, and has been available in small quantities in hospitals ever since a Spanish doctor with diabetes discovered mare’s milk and claims that it saved his life. Told that his time was up at the age of 40, his liver and blood count were in a terrible state and he was obese. Having read good things about mare’s milk, he drank 500ml/day for three months without changing his diet or lifestyle. He lost 30kg over this time and was regularly monitored with blood tests.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Horse milk has also been shown to help against chromes disease and diabetes, and drinking 20ml everyday can combat depression because of its high levels of serotonin. “If 10% of all milk given to babies was mare’s milk it would combat so many 21st century diseases,” says Julie. “It holds incredible potential in the medical field!”

Julie insists that she would never say anything against cow’s milk but she’s concerned about the way it is over-produced, how the cows suffer and the type of feed given – the corn is not good enough quality and it’s not what they should be eating. It is clear to see that the horses she rears are like her children, and she cares for them as if they were. To avoid the horses getting ill, her and her husband take great care of them – massaging them, giving them homeopathy, aromatherapy and herbs should they need it. In 90% of cases, this approach either avoids or solves any medical problems the horses encounter. It also ensures that the mare’s milk stays organic; should they need to give medication to the horses, they wouldn’t be able to milk them for one month afterwards. “The animals must be well looked after, strong and healthy to produce milk of high quality,” says Julie.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Admittedly, there wasn’t a great demand at the start of Julie’s venture, but with 115 mares and 8 litres of milk produced a day, they’re now the biggest producer of mare’s milk in Normandy, and the only farm to produce fresh mare’s milk throughout the year! So what does mare’s milk taste like? Julie prepares me a sweet crêpe, made with mare’s milk. “It can be used in cooking, just like normal milk,” she says, as she serves me the crêpe, accompanied by a glass of mare’s milk. “For me, it’s now the only milk I use!”

Biting into the crêpe, I honestly couldn’t tell the difference. Taking a sip of milk, I am struck by how much lighter in consistency mare’s milk is than cow’s milk, altogether more refreshing and less heavy. There was also a flowery, almost herbal taste about it. I concluded to Julie that I could definitely take this over normal milk any day; after all, I’d be supporting a local business, humane treatment of animals, organic production and an endangered species of horse… reasons enough if any!

Julie’s chevalait is sold in 300 organic shops across Europe, including France, Belgium and Spain. To find out more about mare’s milk and Julie’s farm, visit the Chevelait website.

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

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.