Travel Bug #3: Normandy for Foodies

After being in Canada for two years, I went to visit my parents in Normandy. I forgot how charming the tiny winding roads, patchwork fields, and stylized houses were. Nestled in the heart of lower Normandy, surrounded by apple laden trees, cows and lush green grass, my parent’s house is the epitome of Normandy living. The house itself is a noman longhouse, two large welcoming downstairs rooms either side of a grand staircase that leads up to a maze of rooms. The kitchen is big and homely with a decent fireplace with an enclosed wood burner, perfect for slow cooking the perfect goulash, dining table and chairs for up to eight people and a corner of couches. The kitchen space inspires you to pick up a recipe book and bake wonderful cakes and delicious meals with the fresh rich produce that is available in the local markets, and then recline in front of the fire with a hearty glass of french wine and a good book. The addition of a handsome dog, two Normandy farm cats, and a feisty kitten make the place a home. I have previously visited my parent’s place over the years and not appreciated the full extent of its coziness and the wealth of nature that swathes Normandy, not just in landscape, but in produce, craft and Joie de vie. And you can experience it too thanks to Airbnb!

Most people, when asked what Normandy makes them think of, will reply either World War history, Le-Mont-Saint-Micheal or rain. They would be right in all these aspects, even though the claim of the holy “mont” is deliberated between Normandy and Brittany. Alike to Wales, it rains a lot in Normandy, the main reason behind its lush greenery, but unlike Wales, Normandy is dominated mainly by cows. This post is going to inform you more of the edible side of Normandy rather than a whistle-stop tour of Normandy history, the museums, castles, and places to visit. So get your tea and cake ready, as this post may make you slightly nibbly.

Food in Normandy is either bathed in cream, cheese or Calvados, the tasty apple brandy from the region. Not all Normandy food is the traditional delicious of steak frîtes or moules by the sea. Tripes à la mode to Caen is what it sounds like. Offel. Traditionally, the meal used all four chambers of a cow’s stomach, as well as its hooves, bones and a part of the large intestine, though the intestine became banned by the French in 1996. The ingredients are simmered in the oven for up to 15 hours in a special pot called a tripière, along with traditional root vegetables, garlic, peppercorns, a bottle of a cider and a glass of Calvados. If that is something that warms the cockles of your stomach then you are in for a treat, on the other hand, if you are a fussy eater like I am, the thought of that makes me green. All is not lost however as Normandy is the homeland of a lot of delicious cheese, including Camembert. There is indeed a village of Camembert in the Auge department, that has a museum on the specialty cheese. If you are indeed a foodie, it may be worth checking it out, as the Auge department also is home to other famous french soft cheeses including Neufchâtel, Pont-l’Évêque, and Livarot.

If cheese isn’t your thing, I have excellent news. Normandy is a region that grows incredible apples. With apples, you can make the sweet nectar that is cider and more potent nectar of Calvados. Cider is split into two categories: brut et douce, dry or sweet. Whichever you drink is personal preference, myself being a brut fan for the strong dry taste of appley alcohol, wheres the douce is better for accompanying desserts and utilising in cooking. Calvados is a bit stronger, being more of a brandy-esque spirit. Typically sitting around 40% proof, this liquor is used in Tarte Normands and as a palette cleanser in longer course meals. (Personally, I like to have it on the rocks or with a splash of soda to take the sharp alcohol edge off it.) If this is a bit too strong for you, fear not, as there is a lighter proof apple alcohol. This would be Pommeau. Unlike Calvados, it is not distilled apples to make an apple or pear based brandy but is a melange of brandy with locally made apple juice, bringing the proof down to around 20% and making it a popular aperitif, alongside servings of ham, cheese, and melon. Distilleries litter the Normandie countryside, so if you want to see the process and taste the different Calvados and Pommeau on offer, you have a wide range of places to visit. Some are farmhouses that make Calvados alongside their rearing of cattle and sheep, others are grandiose manor houses and chateaus. Probably any type of building you can think of, there is probably a distillery hiding in Normandy to the exact thought.

Let’s talk about produce. Supermarkets will often say where products are from, those being exterior to France being picked a lot less than home brands. Something that always blows me away about french culture, regardless of where you are in France, are the street markets. Fresh vegetables, meat, and food from local farms, tangled with this morning’s catch of fish and shellfish entwined with artisan craft stalls and clothing dominate the streets on the town’s designated market day. My favourite market to visit is Granville on a Saturday, as there is a covered food market a plethora of fresh fish stalls and interesting local crafts. The locally grown fruit and vegetables are much bigger than anything I’ve seen imported, with beef tomatoes the size of your head, and beach ball-sized cabbages, cauliflower, and lettuce, all sold for such cheap prices. The freshly made paella, Chinese, chicken, crêpes, and galettes are all wonderous in smell, looks, and taste, making the market day a special day every week. That’s the other part of local markets, they are on one to two days a week in certain towns, and then the next day will be down the road in another town. Simply blown away.

Lastly, I am going to recommend a few dishes that are to die for here in Normandy. The aforementioned cheese is a course of its own in meals so it is a must dine experience on the bucket list. Next would be to have Barfleur mussels in a Normandy sauce, on the coast. Preferably in Barfleur, but seaside towns along La Manche also have local delicious fresh mussels. When I mean local, 9 times out of 10, you will be able to see the mussel beds along the coast from the restaurant. If you are an adventurous eater, Andouille de Vire is a specialty pork sausage from Mortain-Bocage that has many a food festival and an acquired taste. This alongside Tripes à la mode Caen is a rare treat only found in the area. Finally, check out the local boulangerie as they have some of the best sweet treats at sweet prices!

If you have any favourite Normandy meals or places, please comment below as I would love to expand my knowledge and taste buds on the matter!

 

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Thanks for reading and have an excellent day!

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