A short drive from the ferry brought Lara Dunn to a ver­dant land of blos­som, cows and ev­ery sort of ap­ple-based drink imag­in­able.

France - - Contents -

Famed for its seafood and cheeses, Nor­mandy also has great drinks.

Think of Nor­mandy and one of the first things that may spring to mind is cheese. Home to Camem­bert, Li­varot, Pont l’évêque and Neufchâ­tel, Nor­mandy cer­tainly has plenty to choose from. And what is the best thing to en­joy with a tasty bit of cheese? Some­thing ap­ple-y should do the trick nicely. I’d been fa­mil­iar with French cider for a while, and I’d heard of the fa­mous ap­ple brandy known as Cal­va­dos, but on ar­riv­ing in the Pays d’auge area, I re­alised what an em­bar­rass­ment of po­ma­ceous riches ac­tu­ally ex­isted.

One of the eas­i­est, and most pleas­ant, ways to re­ally get un­der the skin of this area is to fol­low the sign­posted Cider Route. It’s a great way of dis­cov­er­ing small tra­di­tional pro­duc­ers whose or­chards are still home to the cows and sheep that help man­age the grass be­neath the trees, and the qual­ity of the crop. These are still fam­ily run en­ter­prises for the most part, many handed down through the gen­er­a­tions. The Manoir de

Gran­douet in Cam­bre­mer (manoir-de-gran­ and La Galotière in Crouttes (la­ga­ were both fas­ci­nat­ing for their sto­ries and in­di­vid­ual ap­proach to mak­ing Nor­man cider a prof­itable com­mod­ity with­out los­ing the in­ti­macy of their prod­uct. A tast­ing at La Galotière made me re­alise that my favourite drink from home on the Here­ford­shire/worces­ter­shire bor­der was also pop­u­lar here in Pays d’auge, go­ing by the name of poirée in­stead of perry, and with a bit of nat­u­ral fizz as part of the pack­age. The visit also brought pom­meau into my lex­i­con of ap­ple drinks. Like Pineau des Char­entes, but made from ap­ple spirit and juice rather than the grape prod­ucts of Char­ente, it was de­li­cious, and a bot­tle swiftly added to the ever grow­ing haul to take home. Thank good­ness for the ferry!

The apoth­e­o­sis of the ap­ple was some­thing I’d never re­ally ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore, though. A visit to the in­cred­i­bly scenic half-tim­bered farm at Cal­va­dos Chris­tian Drouin (cal­va­ en) ex­plained the dis­till­ing process to me. Us­ing a cider base sourced only from lo­cal ap­ples, Pays d’auge Cal­va­dos must be dis­tilled twice to meet rig­or­ous AOC cri­te­ria, be­fore age­ing. A visit to the cel­lar filled with oak bar­rels, fol­lowed by a tast­ing gave an in­sight into the vast dif­fer­ences in flavour that the age­ing process can be­stow. There was a world of dif­fer­ence be­tween a young Cal­va­dos de­signed to be mixed in cock­tails and one from the year of my birth which was smooth and made for sip­ping. Chris­tian Drouin have not rested on their lau­rels, how­ever. In ad­di­tion to the area’s tra­di­tional spirit, they have em­braced the huge in­ter­na­tional rise in the pop­u­lar­ity of gin. Not to be pipped at the post, Le Gin uses a clear ap­ple spirit as the ba­sis for the dis­tiller’s gin recipe, which also in­cludes other ap­ple el­e­ments to go with the var­i­ous botan­i­cals that give it its sub­tle and unique flavour. Hav­ing pur­chased a very rea­son­ably priced bot­tle (by gin stan­dards) I was se­ri­ously wish­ing I had a porter, and was wan­der­ing whether a visit to AA might be in or­der.

Af­ter the pas­toral at­mos­phere of Chris­tian Drouin, a visit to the Cal­va­dos Ex­pe­ri­ence (cal­va­dos-ex­pe­ri­ence. com) in Pont l’évêque was quite a con­trast. The brand new tourist hotspot opened ear­lier this year, and aims to ed­u­cate the vis­i­tor as well as cel­e­brate the not-so­hum­ble ap­ple and its prod­ucts. The hi-tech au­dio-visual tour is avail­able in sev­eral lan­guages, and takes the vis­i­tor on a fas­ci­nat­ing jour­ney through the his­tory of Cal­va­dos and its dis­til­la­tion pro­cesses. There was al­most a Cal­va­dos theme park feel about the place as pro­jected leaves rus­tled be­neath our feet as we walked. A tast­ing area and well-stocked shop made that need for a pack-mule and a spell dry­ing out ever more press­ing.

Re­gret­tably, but prob­a­bly for the best for my health, this marked the end of my Pays d’auge al­co­holic odyssey. It was time to take my bounty back home to the UK. One thing is for sure, the spirit of Nor­mandy is cer­tainly in­tox­i­cat­ing.

MAIN: Ru­ral seren­ity at the Manoir de Gran­douet;IN­SERT: Cows graz­ing in cider or­chards are a Nor­man tra­di­tion;TOP RIGHT: Ap­ple blos­som in spring

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