Cidres Normands

31 07 2009

In addition to dairy products and seafood, Normandy is known for its apples.  Naturally, the people of Normandy figured out long ago how to make their abundant apple crop into a fermented beverage.  (I’m sure this had everything to do with preservation, and nothing to do with inebriation.)  There is even a 40 km “Cider Route” for tourists and enthusiasts.  These days, a majority of the cider in France comes from Normandy, though it turned out to be distinctly hard to track down in Rouen.  Nick and I asked for local cider in most of the restaurants and bars we visited, and only two poured it!  Considering that both served the same brand, Le P’tit Rouennais, and that we enjoyed it quite a bit, we hoped we would be able to find some in a shop before leaving town.  No such luck.  Of course it didn’t help that it was a holiday weekend and just about everything was closed, but we were hoping for a Lille-style jackpot in the local Monoprix.

A fairly typical cider from Normandy

After spending several hours wandering the town in search of local ciders to purchase, we ended up in a souvenir shop of sorts.  We bought three different ciders which, upon further inspection, were all from the same producer: Les Vergers de la Morinière.  It’s a family business that has been making cider and stronger apple-based spirits for 150 years.  We were curious to taste the difference between the styles, and to see if it was detectable.  Over the next few days, we tasted the three ciders, and I dutifully took notes.  First, L’Atypique.  This may not have been the best one to start with, seeing as Nick and I were unfamiliar with the “typical” Norman cider, but there it was.

L’Atypique was extremely effervescent, with a foamy white head that quickly dissolved.  The cloudy, golden color was reminiscent of nonalcoholic apple cider.  On the palate, the cider was rather dry, with a significant yeastiness.  Nick noted, “You can tell it used to be sweet.”

Cidre du Pays d'Auge

Next up was the AOC Cidre Pays d’Auge.  If there does exist a typical cider from Normandy, this one is it.  Super fizzy (again) and dry with a hint of fermented yeast character.  Compared to L’Atypique, the Cidre Pays d’Auge had a slightly darker amber color and tasted sweeter and more apple-y.  A very straightforward cider.

Cidre Fermier

Finally, we tried the Cidre Fermier.  I’m glad we saved this one for last, as it was probably my favorite of the lot.  It definitely smelled of apple, and still had a remarkable amount of fizz.  Cloudier and just darker in color than the Cidre Pays d’Auge, the Cidre Fermier had a rustic quality to it that really appealed to me.  The flavor was fuller and more complex than the other two, just edging on barnyardy, but in a good way.  (We had a cider that was barnyardy in a bad way shortly after moving to Paris… kind of had us wondering if we were going to get food poisoning, and put us off cider for a while.)  Anyway, now I know what to ask for the next time I’m in Normandy: Cidre Fermier.  If I can find a bar serving it, that is.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.


Fromages de Normandie

27 07 2009

Livarot and Neufchâtel

The fabulous meal that Nick and I enjoyed at the site of Julia Child’s culinary epiphanyincluded a cheese course.  It featured four of Normandy’s most famous cheeses: Pont l’Évêque, Camembert, Neufchâtel, and Livarot.  Naturally, we got a hunk of each, and all were wonderful.  Upon returning to Paris, I decided to hunt down a couple of them for further photographing (and eating, bien sur!) purposes.  While killing time waiting for my butcher to return from his lunch break, I strolled down to the rue de Bretagne where stands the aromatic Fromagerie Jouannault.  I picked up a cute heart-shaped Neufchâtel and a pungent wedge of Livarot.

Neufchâtel, which tastes like a slightly milder Camembert, has a slightly grainy texture and a thin, very edible rind (this coming from someone who often eats around the rind – I know I probably shouldn’t admit that – la honte!).  While the one we tasted at the restaurant had a full, mushroomy flavor, this one was slightly underripe and so had a hint of chalkiness and a bit of a tangy bite.  Still, we managed to put half of it away in one sitting!  (Speaking of things I shouldn’t admit…)  Neufchâtel is also the most historic Normand cheese, its production dating back at least as far as the Middle Ages.  As for the whimsical heart shape, fromagères made them like that as a way of flirting with British soldiers during the Hundred Years’ War, so the story goes.

I first heard of Livarot when I read Peter Mayle’s French Lessons.  One of the most memorable chapters was dedicated to a cheese-eating contest in Normandy.  The contestants had a time limit and were to eat as much Livarot as they could, with only local cider to wash it down.  I don’t want to spoil it for you, though.  At any rate, the next time I was in France, I made a point of finding some Livarot, which it turns out I love.  It is another very smelly washed-rind cheese, and it is wrapped with five bands of grass to help it keep its shape once ripe, which give it the nickname “The Colonel.”  The rind is crumbly, sticky, and not very enjoyable, but the golden yellow cheese inside is smooth, creamy, and full-bodied with a hint of pepperiness.

Both cheeses are made from cow’s milk, as the cow reigns supreme in this region.  La Normande, the local breed of cow, is revered both for its protein-rich milk and for its meat.  The cream and butter produced in Normandy are considered some of the best in France.  In fact, one of the towers of Rouen’s cathedral is called the “Tour de Beurre,” or butter tower, because it was paid for entirely by selling indulgences so that the local bourgeoisie wouldn’t have to give up their beloved butter during Lent.  Not surprisingly, it is the more ornate of the two towers on the cathedral’s facade.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Le Rouennais

20 07 2009

In the limited planning time I had for the Rouen trip, I didn’t make it to the library for guidebooks as I normally would have done.  But in the research I was able to do, one restaurant kept coming up, no matter where I was looking.  And that restaurant was Le Rouennais.  I called before we left Paris to see if they would be open on the holiday weekend, and impulsively made a reservation for lunch on Bastille Day. 

Lunchtime Apéro

Since it was a holiday, we figured it would be ok to start our lunch with a celebratory cocktail.  (A quick hilarious story, if you don’t mind: last Thursday Nick and I went to the Musée d’Orsay.  We met on the bridge that joins the Tuileries to the Left Bank, where there are naturally loads of tourists.  I overheard a miffed-sounding American woman telling a companion that she had gone all the way over to the Place de La Bastille, and “No Bastille!”  I just about died laughing, once I was out of earshot, of course.  For those of you not in the know, the Bastille prison was completely demolished very shortly after its famous storming, and, in an ironic twist, the stones were used to build the Pont de la Concorde, one bridge over from the one on which we were standing.)  So I ordered a kir violette, and Nick was talked into the “Cocktail Maison.”  With our drinks came a little plate of apéro nibbles: puff pastry-based cheesy poofs and seafood canapés.  It seems that this is fairly common practice in restaurants in Rouen, but it’s such a nice touch.

We each got a two-course menu, as we do, and Nick got the meal started with the trio de saumon.

Salmon, Three Ways

Silky house-smoked salmon, a wedge of mousse-like salmon terrine, and a very finely minced salmon tartare were equally delicious and beautifully complimented by a dollop of citrusy crème fraîche.  Luckily for me, Nick was generous enough to share a few bites.  The seafood in Normandy is some of the best and freshest in France, and regional chefs proudly highlight it on their menus.  So for my main course I chose the marmite de pêcheur, expecting some kind of mixed seafood stew.

More like seafood pot pie!

What I got was this adorable little tureen topped with flaky puff pastry (and a pointless rosemary garnish).  Underneath the golden crust was my stew – big chunks of salmon and some kind of white fish along with tiny mussels and shrimp swimming in a rich seafood velouté.  I enjoyed every bite, mopping up the last of the sauce with bits of bread, sticking my hand into the bowl in what was certainly an undignified manner.

As for Nick, he chose the magret de canard, and was very pleased with the rosy, perfectly medium rare meat on his plate.

Canard à l'orange

It was served with a classic orange sauce, triangles of underwhelming polenta, and a portion of delicious tomato confit soufflé.  He liked it so much, in fact, that he neglected to photograph the rather unremarkable moelleux au chocolat I had for dessert.

Our bellies full and our palates satisfied, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the mostly deserted streets of Rouen – it was a holiday, after all – before hopping on the train home.  We arrived in Paris in time to watch the fireworks from a vantage point high on the hill above Belleville.  Not a bad way to spend a Fête Nationale.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Bienvenue en Normandie

16 07 2009

As it turned out, I got a three-day “weekend” for Bastille Day.  I put “weekend” in quotes because the three days were Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  But no matter.  I found this out on Saturday, and by the time I got home from work, Nick was already researching last-minute getaways.  (Isn’t he the best?)

Can anyone guess where we went?

We found ourselves in Rouen Monday morning.  Rouen is known for its cathedral, which was the subject of a large series of paintings by Claude Monet.  Rouen is also famous for being the site of the burning at the stake of Joan of Arc.  (Incidentally, she was born in Orléans, where I went for a weekend last summer.  I swear I’m not doing the Joan of Arc tour on purpose!)


Rouen is located in France’s Normandy region, and since I haven’t written any Regional French Cuisine posts yet this month, it seemed like a good idea to name July Normandy Month.  (I was originally saving Normandy for September, seeing as it’s famous for its apples, but there we were, so I went with it.)  After finding our way to our hotel and getting a couple of maps from the tourist office, Nick and I set out in search of some lunch.  And by “set out,” I mean “got some beers at a café and made some phone calls.”  Holiday weekends can be tough in France, and a lot of restaurants are closed on Mondays anyway, so I wanted to make sure we’d have somewhere to go before hitting the cobblestone streets.  An affirmative response from Le P’tit Bec, which specializes in traditional cuisine prepared with fresh, seasonal products, and we were off to the incredibly charming Rue Eau de Robec.

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