Having spent two weeks with friends in Normandie and touring the local producers it became abundantly
obvious that nothing encapsulates the region better than a farmhouse that sells rounds of Camembert and bottles of cider against a backdrop of fields full of brown and white dappled cows. Lush
orchards, the fertile pasture land of the Pays d’Auge and the long, cool Channel coastline are the source of nature’s larder for Normandie. It brims with apples, pears, meat, game, pungent cheeses,
freshly churned Isigny butter (a real treat) and spectacularly good seafood.
It was a Norman, Guillaume Tirel, master chef to the French kings Charles V and Charles VI, who compiled the first French cookbook in the late 14th century. Alongside recipes for milk tarts and remedies for spoilt wines are dishes that require “flesh”, “solid matter’ and “brawn”, all synonyms for meat. Tirel includes a recipe for ragout made with veal, still a popular meat in Normandie, cooked Vallée d’Auge style with mushrooms, cream, butter and cider or calvados.
Another Norman speciality is L’Agneau de Pré-Salé (salt-meadow lamb) from the western Manche coast. The lambs are reared on the salt-rich marshes around Mont Saint Michel, where they graze on flavoursome grasses and herbs such as samphire, sorrel and sea lavender. The result is a tender meat with a sweet, delicate taste.
Game tends to be found on menus in and around Rouen, where rabbit, cooked with morel mushrooms or stuffed with truffled pigs’ trotters, and duck are specialities. Canard a la Rouennaise is a duck strangled to collect blood for the sauce, part roasted, then finished in a rich sauce of duck liver and shallots.
Few parts of the animal are considered inedible in Norman cuisine. Another classic meaty dish is Tripes a la mode de Coen, a stew made with calves’ feet, onions or leeks and cider.
Also not for the squeamish, Fromage de Tête (head cheese) is a local version of brawn; smoked Andouilles are a type of sausage filled with the whole intestines of a pig, and Boudin Noir is a long sausage made from pig’s blood, onions and pork fat.
The morning markets are an excellent source of seasonal vegetables and fruits, as well as a chance to taste before you buy the local artisan products such as cheeses, terrines, tartes aux pommes, Crème Fraîche d’Isigny and Teurgoule (a creamy baked rice pudding flavoured with cinnamon) the name means to twist the mouth in Norman dialect, a reference to the effect of the spiciness on the eater. Don’t forget to taste the local hand-crafted breads, amazing!! Teurgoule has its own pudding club, La Confrérie Gastronomique de Ia Teurgoule, which is based in Houlgate. The sweet- toothed fraternity presides over an annual cook-off and keeps the official recipe.
The regional fish markets in harbour towns such as Honfleur are superb for oysters, mussels and scallops as well as other shellfish, from langoustines to prawns, which make up the impressive Fruits de Mer platters sold in seaside restaurants.
Normandy supplies about one in three of our huitres creuses (literally hollow oysters), which thrive in its strong tides. Top-rate oyster destinations include Saint-Vaast la Hougue, the bay of Mont Saint-Michel and the Isigny-Grandcamp coast.
Another seasonal speciality, between October and May, is coquilles St-Jacques (scallops). The region produces more than 50 percent of our country’s scallops.
Sole has traditionally been the most highly regarded fish in Norman cooking, especially along the coast of Seine-Maritime. Sole Normande has the white fish baked in a sauce and cream garnished with mussels, oysters, mushrooms and prawns.
No visit to gourmet Normandie would be complete without tasting a few cheeses. The tradition of cheese-making is said to hark back to the monasteries during the Dark Ages and today its cheeses are revered and regulated in the same way as France’s best wines. The best-known Norman cheeses — Camembert, Livarot, Pont l’Evêque, Brillat-Savarin and Petit Suisse – are all AOC (appellation d’origine controlee) stamped, but there are scores others made by local producers.
Needless to say I have returned with some very interesting recipes to share with you, having added my usual little twist.