Updated: Aug 31, 2022
Normandy. Close your eyes and picture it. One could assume that you thought of rolling emerald fields dotted with cows and apple trees, the pristine sand of the calm yet mournful landing beaches or the iconic Mont Saint Michel. Normandy is a region in Northern France with a strong history, identity and culture - and one that holds an image of freedom for many. The beaches and fields where battles were fought all those years ago today are tranquil and paradisiacal landscapes where nature and tradition are at the forefront, alongside a thriving food scene. Due to the blend of land and Sea, Normandy is a culinary stronghold, boasting some of the finest produce that France has to offer. In this article, we will be looking at the food and produce of this special region and a traditional recipe that uses some of these ingredients.
It would be hard to not think of cheese when talking about France and food, and Normandy is certainly no exception. In Normandy, the cows graze the pastures and can be found throughout the countryside - actually outnumbering people! The region gives its name to the local breed: the Normande, which is both a dairy and meat variety. These cows are white and brown, if you are a viewer of our youtube channel, Sean's World, you may have seen them in the field near the house in one of the videos. Anyway, the cheese of the region is undoubtedly the Camembert: a soft creamy cheese with a gooey centre and ripe flavour. Camembert, named after the village where it originates from, is a surface ripened cheese that comes in a round shape, in a thin wooden box. We often enjoy a baked camembert in the summer, cooked on the barbecue. It is really simple, you just remove the plastic wrapping and place the cheese back inside its box, then wrap in tin foil and leave to bake away from the flames for about twenty minutes. It goes delicious and melty-like a fondue and of course, is best enjoyed with some fresh bread. Whilst speaking of dairy, it is worth mentioning the major role that butter and cream or 'crème fraîche' play in the local cuisine; these are staples for any self-respecting Norman and frankly are a big reason as to why the food is so delicious.
Another notable dish using dairy and deliciously creamy butter is the famous omelette of La Mère Poulard restaurant situated on Mont Saint Michel - which I recently posted a travel guide about here. The omelette's recipe is actually a secret which remains tightly guarded to this day. It is speculatively, although widely believed that they separate the whites and the yolks before whisking each. What we do know is that they use a copper skillet to cook the omelette, specifically from the nearby town of Villedieu-les-Poêles, where a lot of the copper from Sean's World Etsy Shop was originally from. I also recently posted about the benefits of using copperware in the kitchen which you can find by clicking here.
Meat is a major part of French cuisine and the cows of the region feature on the menu. If you are adventurous, you could try Tripe, which is something similar to Haggis from Scotland. It's made from the stomach of the cow and simmered for 15 hours alongside carrot, garlic, peppercorns and cider - which is the way they make it in Caen. It would be fair to say that it's a required taste. However, Normandy is also home to many sheep. The finest tasting lamb that you can find in the region, if not the country, is the meadow salted lamb from the bay of Mont Saint-Michel. The sheep graze upon the salt meadows, where the ocean permeates the grasses that they ingest, resulting in a naturally salty and succulent meat. It is an AOC protected status meaning that it is a guarantee of quality and of locally produced origine. 'L'escalope Normande or Norman Escalope is a famous dish of the area, using chicken breast, pork or veal, that wonderful Norman cream, a touch of mustard and cider to make a delicious creamy sauce that is a delight to the tastebuds.
The apple is a fundamental ingredient when it comes to the cuisine of Normandy - but also one that fills the glasses of the lucky diners of the region. Made by crushing then fermenting those apples from the pommiers that grow freely in the orchards where the cows graze. Cider is the drink of the countryside. Clear or muddled, brut or doux; you can distinguish the flavour from one farm's cider to the next owing largely to the large variety of apple trees. Perry is also popular, which is similar to cider but made using pear instead of apple and is slightly drier, generally speaking. If you fancy something a little stronger, Calvados, or simply Calva, is made from distilling cider two times to achieve a brandy with an alcohol content of around 40%. The 'Trou Normand' is a traditional palate cleanser eaten between courses consisting of an apple sorbet with a liberal splash of local Calvados, serving as a digestif and a heart-warming tipple, to be enjoyed in moderation, of course. We could not talk about Norman apples without mentioning the famous Tarte Normande. A simple but delicious dessert consisting of a pastry tart made using plenty of butter and thinly sliced apples with a splash of Calvados to your liking - it goes down delightfully well with some cream.
And finally, if we are to talk about the food of Normandy we have to mention the bountiful offerings of the sea. With the English Channel to the North and West, 400 miles or 640 kilometres of coastline, the sea bears many gifts to the cuisine including: clams, whelks, scallops, langoustines, mussels and oysters. All of which are to be enjoyed freshly caught and served up on a seafood platter or 'plateau de fruit de mer' at a seafront restaurant in a coastal town such as Granville, Deauville or Dieppe. Speaking of which, Dieppe is home to the Marmite Dieppoise - a dish cooked in a pot combining seafood and fish, cream and cider in a salty broth. It's also good to know that the lobster hailing from the Western coast of the region is certified as sustainable (the European blue lobster) and can be enjoyed by all !
The recipe: Braised beef cheek 'A la Normande'
Despite the abundance of fresh seafood and fish, we are staying in the countryside with this one: a delicious braised beef cheek using some local cider and beef. Beef cheek has become a popular cut of meat due to its tenderness if cooked slow and long, which is exactly what we will be doing. It goes nicely with some buttery and creamy mashed potato. Honestly, the wait pays off for this delicious Norman recipe. Enjoy!
Braised Beef Cheek with Cider
Cooking time: Over 3 hours
1,2 kg (2,5 lbs) of beef cheek, trimmed (to be marinated overnight)
3 onions, diced
3 carrots, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
70 g (1,75 oz) of tomato purée
500 ml (1,25 cups) of beef stock
125 g (0,5 cups) of butter
70 cl (3 cups) of cider
1 bouquet garni
parsley and crème fraîche for garnish
serve with mashed potatoes or gratin dauphinoise
Cut the beef into bite-size pieces and place in a large bowl. Add the cider and the bouquet garni then cover and place in the fridge, leaving it to marinate overnight.
The next day, remove the meat pieces from the cider and drain them. Keep the cider and the herbs.
Season the meat with salt and pepper then fry off in a casserole, with half of the butter, turning the pieces once they are golden on each side, then remove the meat from the pan and place on a plate. You may need to do this in batches. Turn the Casserole off the heat. (You can boil the water and make the stock if you are using stock cubes during this time.)
Cut up the vegetables. Fry off the onion with the rest of the butter in the casserole for 3 minutes over a medium heat until they start to become translucent, then add the carrot and garlic, frying for a further 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the tomato purée and the beef to the casserole, then add the beef stock, the cider and the bouquet garni.
Season the casserole with a good pinch of salt and pepper, stir then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 3 hours until the beef is tender.
Serve with mashed potatoes or gratin dauphinoise and garnish with the fresh parsley and a dollop of crème fraîche. Bon appetit!