A few days ago I bought some French Camembert cheese. That got me thinking about the delicious food in Normandy and just how much I enjoyed the time that I spent there. Isn’t it funny how a simple thought can send you on a journey?
The trip from Paris is around two hours by train so Normandy is ideal for a weekend away to explore the countryside and indulge in decadent food. The area is rich in history and features the Vikings, William the Conqueror and WWII on centre stage. Normandy was also the inspiration for many of the Impressionists with pretty pastoral scenes, apple orchards and 600 km of coastline to inspire them.
Tempt your taste buds with the best food in Normandy
This coastline has some of the most important fishing ports in France. I love oysters and 21% of the oysters in France come from here. Enjoying oysters that were in the ocean a short while ago is such a treat. I can still remember their briny taste so well.
At low tide, you can collect cockles and clams along the beaches. Lobsters, prawns and scallops are also plentiful. You can expect the waterfront restaurants all to serve their own unique house version of a seafood platter or assiette de fruits de mer that often includes mussels, crab and clams as well.
For great seafood, I particularly like the towns of Honfleur and Étretat, but Dieppe and Cherbourg are also popular choices.
The Pays d’Auge is an area in Normandy known for its cheese. Its history can be traced from the Dark Ages when cheese was made in the monasteries. By the 11thcentury the type of cheese being produced in the region were the building blocks of what we know today. The “modern” versions began to emerge in the 17th century.
Many of the cheeses are rated as AOC or appellation d’origine controlee which is a certification, in France, for a protected designation of origin. It covers wines, cheeses, butter and agricultural products. There are strict rules in place that must be met to be awarded the AOC recognition. There are 4 types of cheese in Normandy that have received the AOC certification.
The freshly made cheese is hard and pretty tasteless. As the cheese matures the interior becomes runny, rich and buttery and a white rind is formed. The rind is meant to be eaten with the cheese and not removed. You can also visit the village of Camembert to learn more about this delicious cheese and naturally try a few tasting samples as well.
Livarot is matured for up to 2 months with a delicious nutty taste and is quite runny at room temperature. Each wheel is washed with brine and coloured with annatto. It slowly becomes golden in colour and little holes develop in it.
Pont-l’évêque has the distinction of being one of the oldest cheeses in the region and was previously called d’Angelot. It is pale yellow in colour with an orange rind and is soft, rich and creamy. This is another of my favourite cheeses from the region, but if you keep it too long it develops a very strong smell in the fridge and my husband always complains about it.
This cheese originated in 1035. I find that difficult to get my head around, especially when you think of everything that has happened in the world since then, but the cheese still remains being made, true to traditional methods.
It is a soft white cheese that comes in many shapes. The most popular is a heart shape. There is also a legend that French farm girls fell in love with English soldiers during the Hundred Years War and so they made heart shaped cheese to express their love. I am not sure what happened if the soldier that received the cheese was not a cheese lover!
Cider and Calvados
I don’t know why, but one of the first things I do when I arrive in France is buy some cider. It’s so different from the English version of cider that I can’t resist it. Some of the better brands come in bottles with a champagne styled closure and they deliver the same satisfying pop when opened. Brut is the driest, but cider is also available in demi-sec or doux which is the sweetest of them all.
The new kid on the block is called cidre de glace (ice cider). It is made from apples that are left on the trees until winter. I haven’t had the pleasure of tasting this yet, but it’s on my list!
Cider has been around in Normandy since the 12th century. There are also some versions that are made from pears. Calvados, which is an apple based brandy had already been certified AOC in 1942.
Both cider and Calvados creep into many of the recipes from the region like tarte tatin. You should try “le trou Normand” or the “Normandy Hole”. I have no idea where the name came from, but it is a local tradition to enjoy a shot of Calvados splashed over apple sorbet between courses.
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Apart from cider and Calvados apples are used extensively in cooking as well. I have already mentioned a favourite of mine, tarte tatin, but other versions of apple tarts from the region also come to mind. Naturally, being in dairy country, cream and butter are also a large part of the recipes. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it?
Although crêpes may have originated in its neighbour, Brittany, you will find any number of crêperies all over Normandy. Sometimes you will see them described as galettes. This means that they are made from buckwheat flour and the fillings are normally savoury.
Both versions may be simple or a gourmet, but either way, they are delicious and great for a snack washed down with a glass of cider.
Agneaux de pré sale
Another regional speciality is lamb that has grazed on fields that have been permeated with sea water. They are found mostly in the Mont Saint-Michel area, but you will also find it in parts of the Cotentin Peninsular. Why is it special? Because of where they lambs graze the meat becomes naturally salted and flavoured, a practice that goes back a 1000 years. Naturally, it is also AOC certified.
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Poulet de Bresse
Would you believe that a chicken can be compared to a fine wine and is the only one to be AOC designated? It has a bright white plumage and steely blue feet. These chickens have been described as the “fourth gastronomic wonder of the world” and are highly sought after. If you want to track them down they can be found in the region of Bourg-en- Bresse.
Other regional specialities
Andouillette, a tripe sausage, is used to make a rich stew flavoured with wine, onion and spices. Andouille de Vire is usually served cold, thinly sliced, with fresh bread and cooked apples. Boudin noir is another local speciality made from pigs blood, onions and pork fat. Game is also a popular choice across the region.
Isn’t the selection of food in Normandy fabulous? If you like rich, indulgent and decadent food then you need to look no further. Next stop Normandy?
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