Dining in Normandy
The felicitous combination of dairy farms, apple orchards, and the sea inspire Normandy's crème de la crème cuisine, featuring voluptuous cream sauces, tender cheeses, lavish seafood platters, and head-spinning Calvados brandy.
Normandy's verdant landscape—a patchwork of pastures and orchards bordered by the sea—heralds a region of culinary delights. Apples feature in tarts, cakes, sauces, and cidre bouché, a sparkling cider sold in cork-top bottles. Brown-and-white cows—the famous vaches normandes—grazing beneath the apple blossoms each produce up to 7 gallons of milk a day, destined to become golden butter, thick crème fraîche, and prized cheeses. Coastal waters from Dieppe to Granville are equally generous, yielding sole, turbot, and oysters. To fully appreciate Normandy's gastronomic wealth, stroll through a weekend market, such as the splendid Saturday morning affair in Honfleur on Place Ste-Catherine, sample a seafood platter at a boardwalk café in Deauville, or meet the omelet of your dreams at La Mère Poulard at Mont-St-Michel.
One fragrance evokes Normandy—the pungent, earthy smell of apples awaiting the press in autumn. Normandy is apple country, where apples with quaint varietal names, such as Windmill and Donkey Snout, are celebrated in the region's gastronomy, along the Route du Cidre, or at Vimoutier's Foire de la Pomme (Apple Festival) in October (where they vote for the Most Beautiful Apple).
Camembert is king in the dairy realm of Normandy. Invented by a farmer's wife in the late 18th century, this tangy, opulently creamy cow's-milk cheese with a worldwide reputation hails from the Auge region. The best—Véritable Camembert de Normandie—with velvety white rinds and supple, sometimes oozy interiors, are produced on small farms, such as the esteemed Moulin de Carel.
Other members of Normandy's (cheese) board are the savory, grassy Pont L'Évêque, the impressively pungent Livarot with rust-color rind, and the Pavé d'Auge, a robust cheese with a honey-hue center.
There are no wines in Normandy, but the region makes its mark in the spirits world with the apple-based Calvados, a fragrant oak-aged brandy.
Like cognac, Calvados, which is distilled from cider, gets better and more expensive with age.
Top producers, such as Dupont in Victot-Pontfol and Pierre Huet in Cambremer, sell Calvados from "Vieux" (aged a minimum of three years) to "X.O." or "Napoléon" (aged from 6 to 25 years).
Many producers also offer Pommeau, an aperitif blending cider with a generous dose of Calvados.
On the Half Shell
Few places in France make an oyster lover happier than Normandy's Cotentin Peninsula, where the land juts into the sea a few miles beyond the Landing Beaches.
Ports such as Blanville-sur-Mer, Granville, and particularly St-Vaast-La Hougue, are where oystermen haul in tons of plump, briny oysters distinguished by a subtle note of hazelnut.
Enjoy a dozen on the half shell at the many traditional restaurants in this region, accompanied by a saucer of shallot vinegar and brown bread.
There is no more famous omelet in the world than the puffy, pillow-like confection offered at La Mère Poulard in Mont-St-Michel.
Whipped with a balloon whisk in a large copper bowl, then cooked in a long-handled skillet over a wood fire, the omelet is delicately browned and crusted on the outside, as soft and airy as a soufflé within.
Order the omelet with ham and cheese as a main course, or sugared and flambéed as a divine dessert.
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