CAL­VA­DOS

The best way to dis­cover Cal­va­dos is by sam­pling its cui­sine, says Ca­tri­ona Burns, as she takes a foodie tour through the de­part­ment

Living France - - Contents -

Dis­cover the fine cheeses, cider and char­cu­terie in this land of plenty

There’s no doubt that food is at the very heart of life in Nor­mandy’s Cal­va­dos in the north-west of France. From the de­part­ment’s charm­ing coast­line to its rolling green hills, its cen­turies-old mar­ket towns and world-fa­mous ap­ple or­chards, the area’s fresh, home-grown pro­duce and hearty cui­sine dom­i­nates the area’s rich and var­ied land­scape and lies at the heart of its cul­ture. And what’s more, sit­u­ated just across the Chan­nel and ac­ces­si­ble by a short trip via train, ferry or flight, the de­part­ment and all of its foodie de­lights are just a short trip away. But while food may be one of the first things to tempt you in Cal­va­dos, you’ll soon dis­cover that there’s plenty more to the de­part­ment that you won’t be able to re­sist…

CHEESE

French cui­sine is fa­mous for its var­ied se­lec­tion of cheese, and the re­gion of Nor­mandy is home to three of the coun­try’s favourites, in­clud­ing Camem­bert, Li­varot and Cal­va­dos’s Pontl’Évêque. For hun­dreds of years the soft cheese was known as ‘ an­gelot’ mean­ing cherub, but it now takes its name from the vil­lage from which it orig­i­nates, sit­u­ated 42km from de­part­men­tal cap­i­tal Caen in the heart of the Pays d’Auge.

A tra­di­tional, time­less lit­tle French vil­lage co­cooned by rolling green forests and hills, Pont-l’Évêque ex­udes a quaint, friendly feel that has staved off the changes of time; its sim­ple way of life sweetly stand­ing still. Its most fa­mous ex­port, the small, square-shaped cheese made from cow’s milk can be bought straight from lo­cal pro­duc­ers at the Mon­day mar­ket – where you can also pick up other in-sea­son essen­tials – or in many of the lo­cal shops through­out the area. In ad­di­tion to the mar­ket, the Église St-Michel – still stand­ing af­ter wartime bomb­ing – also serves as a sym­bol of tra­di­tional town life. In­side the 15th-cen­tury church, also known as ‘Cathe­dral of the Pas­tures’, vis­i­tors can mar­vel at im­pres­sive vaulted ceil­ings, beau­ti­ful stained-glass win­dows and a shield em­bel­lished with two cat­tle and three fleurs de lys, the em­blem of the town. For those seek­ing to burn off all that calorific cheese, the Lac de Pont L’Évêque, lo­cated just three min­utes from the town, of­fers swim­ming, sail­ing, yacht­ing, jet­ski­ing and fish­ing.

AN AP­PLE A DAY…

Nor­mandy is of­ten re­ferred to as ‘the Devon of north­ern France’, but when it comes to its choice of drink, it is per­haps more sim­i­lar to Som­er­set and the West Coun­try, as they share a taste for tip­ples made from ap­ples. In Nor­mandy, that in­cludes cider, pom­meau, and Cal­va­dos, the lo­cal ap­ple brandy that takes its name from the de­part­ment. Sailors from the Basque Coun­try are said to have in­tro­duced cider to Nor­man mariners as early as the 6th cen­tury; by the 12th cen­tury Spa­niards had ex­ported cider mak­ing to Nor­mandy and by the 1600s it had re­placed an­cient bar­ley beer as the re­gion’s top tip­ple. To­day, it is still a firm favourite, par­tic­u­larly along the famed Route du Cidre; a 40-km cir­cu­lar route through the heart of the Pays d’Auge.

The trail takes you through small Nor­mandy vil­lages in­clud­ing Cam­bre­mer, Dru­val and Rumes­nil and past half­tim­bered cot­tages host­ing lo­cal artist ex­hi­bi­tions and cute guest house ac­com­mo­da­tion. Op­por­tu­ni­ties to stop off at work­ing ap­ple farms are plen­ti­ful. Here, pro­duc­ers are nor­mally more than happy to give you a sam­ple of their pro­duce and a unique in­sight into the cen­turies-old tra­di­tion, or you can even take part in ap­ple or honey har­vest­ing. Stop off at a vil­lage crêperie to sip cider from tra­di­tional teacups or, even more be­fit­ting of the en­chant­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, slip off into one of the sun-dap­pled or­chards and pic­nic with a bot­tle of freshly pressed ap­ple-based drink of your choos­ing. All that walk­ing, as you’ll find, makes for thirsty work.

WHAT A CATCH!

Cal­va­dos’s 75km stretch of coast­line is full of life, and seafood is a spe­cial­ity in the area, with ev­ery­thing from lob­ster to mus­sels, and scal­lops to whelks fea­tur­ing in a tra­di­tional seafood dish. A first port of call for many seafood lovers is the sea­side town of Hon­fleur that sits op­po­site Le Havre at the mouth of the Seine.

Brought to life by fa­mous Im­pres­sion­ist painters, Hon­fleur’s pic­ture-per­fect port is recog­nis­able to many, even if they have never ac­tu­ally vis­ited. Its higged­lyp­iggedly row of his­toric houses, squeezed for space along the dock­side, look­ing out

to an an­cient har­bour brim­ming with a colour­ful col­lec­tion of bob­bing boats paints the quin­tes­sen­tial French har­bour scene. If you get to the har­bour be­fore high tide and be­fore the fish­ing ves­sels re­turn home, you might be lucky enough to buy the first catch of the day as fish­er­men off­load their seafood trea­sures by the dock­side. But, if you pre­fer a lie-in, you can also buy fresh fish at the Marché aux Pois­sons. Sit­u­ated just two hours from Paris, Hon­fleur is a pop­u­lar spot with those want­ing to es­cape the city and en­joy a weekend for a breath of fresh sea air.

Another town that ebbs and flows with fish­ing boats is Port-en-Bessin; a charm­ing har­bour vil­lage sit­ting in a sandy en­clave near the D-Day beaches that in­vites peo­ple to cel­e­brate its mar­itime cul­ture with the an­nual Goût du Large fes­ti­val in Novem­ber. Dur­ing the two days of fes­tiv­i­ties, vis­i­tors and lo­cals alike come together to en­joy scal­lop-based dishes along the seafront, watch fish­er­men re­pair their nets along the shore and en­joy the mu­sic and danc­ing at the ac­com­pa­ny­ing show, Musique Sous Les Em­bruns, and cel­e­brate life at sea.

PIG OUT

If you want your food to fol­low a ‘from field to fork’ ap­proach, then there re­ally is nowhere more fit­ting than Nor­mandy where ev­ery­thing on the ta­ble (bar the wine) can be sourced lo­cally. In Nor­mandy, where hearty cui­sine is favoured, it is un­sur­pris­ing that the menu of­ten in­cludes meat. A char­cu­terie lo­cal to Cal­va­dos is Bayeux pork, one of France’s six re­main­ing lo­cal breeds that are tra­di­tion­ally bred on whey, ce­re­als and net­tles. Bayeux pork of­ten makes its way into tra­di­tional sup­pers as win­ter-warm­ing stews and casseroles. But there’s more to Bayeux be­sides ba­con. A pop­u­lar base for vis­it­ing the D-Day beaches, Bayeux is a hot spot for those with an in­ter­est in his­tory, largely drawn to the town to see the Bayeux Ta­pes­try. Housed in the Musée de la Tapis­serie de Bayeaux, the 70m-long em­broi­dered art­work that re­counts the story of the Nor­man in­va­sion and the events that led up to it pro­vides a spe­cial in­sight into this fas­ci­nat­ing pe­riod of his­tory, and con­tin­ues to at­tract and be­guile crowds of vis­i­tors from all over the world.

A visit to the Con­ser­va­toire de la Den­telle, a mu­seum ded­i­cated to the preser­va­tion of Nor­man lace­mak­ing, is also a worth­while way to ex­plore Nor­mandy’s an­cient past. As well as see­ing some of France’s most revered lace mak­ers in ac­tion, vis­i­tors can take part in lace­mak­ing classes and stock up on all the ma­te­ri­als needed to get started with the craft them­selves at the mu­seum shop.

CRÈME DE LA CRÈME

There is never any short­age of butter in French cook­ing, and here, in the dairy­farm­ing heart­land of France, you will find the very best of it. Extending from one end of the Co­tentin Penin­sula to the Bessin area, the com­mune of Isigny-surMer is world-renowned for its butter and milk, the ba­sis for Nor­mandy’s famed rich cui­sine. A com­bi­na­tion of the nearby sea and the Co­tentin and Bessin marsh­lands pro­vides the per­fect ter­roir for pro­duc­ing such high-qual­ity prod­ucts, and its world­wide rep­u­ta­tion is rep­re­sented in the pres­ti­gious ap­pel­la­tion d’orig­ine con­trôlée (AOC) la­bel that both the butter and cream carry. The dairy in­dus­try is ev­i­dent all around this ru­ral land­scape of lush green fields dot­ted with trac­tors and cat­tle; an idyl­lic set­ting that makes for per­fect coun­try­side liv­ing. It was the

farm­ing con­di­tions that first at­tracted Bri­tish-born Kate le Moigne and her French hus­band Stéphane to the de­part­ment 12 years ago when they were look­ing to es­tab­lish a dairy farm, along with a hol­i­day ac­com­mo­da­tion busi­ness. “We had var­i­ous cri­te­ria to meet for both the agri­cul­tural and tourism el­e­ments of the busi­nesses,” Kate ex­plains. “We needed pro­duc­tive land for grow­ing crops to feed our herd and a lo­ca­tion not too far from a UK ferry port link. Cal­va­dos was the area we were most in­ter­ested in, and 12 years on we’re still en­joy­ing this en­chant­ing part of France.” In the 12 years since they ar­rived, the An­glo-French cou­ple who now have three chil­dren have set­tled into Cal­va­dos life, hav­ing suc­cess­fully set up La Vieille Ab­baye in Bar­bery, a lux­ury

“It’s a fan­tas­tic place to live with so much to of­fer fam­i­lies”

farm­house ac­com­mo­da­tion that also com­prises a work­ing dairy farm. Guests are served their dairy prod­ucts at the break­fast ta­ble, and the fam­ily-run farm also sup­plies lo­cal su­per­mar­kets with its range of cream, milk and yo­ghurts.

“We are proud to con­trib­ute to the su­perb rep­u­ta­tion that Cal­va­dos has for its food,” says Kate, who says that while Cal­va­dos is ideal for hop­ping back and forth to the UK to see fam­ily, it also of­fers the per­fect way of life.

“We re­ally do have ev­ery­thing here in Cal­va­dos; beau­ti­ful coun­try­side, fan­tas­tic coast­line, his­tor­i­cal sites and plenty of in­ter­est­ing towns and cities all within easy reach,” she says. “It’s a fan­tas­tic place to live with lots to of­fer fam­i­lies. What more could we ask for?”

Top right: Hon­fleur’s bustling har­bour

Above: The colour­ful streets of Hon­fleur

Be­low: Cider is the drink of choice in Cal­va­dos

Right: Cal­va­dos is dot­ted with ap­ple or­chards

Top: Co­quilles St-Jac­ques are a Nor­mandy spe­cial­ity

Above: Tra­di­tional thatched cot­tages in the pleas­ant green coun­try­side

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