As a region with an amazing agricultural heritage and with a impressive shoreline stretching along the northern border, it is understandable that Normandy is home to some of France’s best known foods.
The freshness and the range of the seafood which is on offer is outstanding. On many of the restaurant menus you can find oysters and scallops, however one of the most common of the shellfish recipes is the beach resort staple dish of ‘moules marinieres’ which translates to mussels with white wine and shallots.
The sea also plays a part in another Normandy speciality, known in French as ‘agneau de pre-sale’ which means to salt meadow lamb. It is a type of lamb which was raised in salt marsh meadows of France, especially Mont Saint Michel in Normandy. The sheep graze in pastures that are covered in halophyte grasses, which have a high salinity and iodine content, causing their meat to have a very distinct taste. This is France is considered a delicacy.
Apples are also a feature of Norman cooking. Sometimes as the main part in a cake or tart or as part of the flavouring in a roast or stew. Apples are also a big contribution to the drinks available in the area. The famous Calvados for one. Calvados is the renowned apple brandy from the region of the same name in lower Normandy.
The Romans are supposed to have discovered the original inhabitants drinking a potent form of cider which was made from apples. However it took monks to formalise the process of planting the crop and distilling the resultant cider to come up with a consistent alcoholic end product that we would now recognise as a forerunner of Calvados.
However perhaps the biggest influence in Normandy is the dairy farming in the area, which took precedence when the marshes in many areas were drained during the Middle Ages.
Butter and cream are used in many of the cuisines in Normandy, but it is the cheeses which Normandy is best known for. Several of them have their own AOP (appellation d’origine protegee), an EU mark of origin. This guarantees certain standards and that the foods and beverages come from a unique area.
Famous Normandy Cheeses
The most famous of Norman cheeses is the authentic Camembert which originates from the small village of the same name near Vimoutiers, in the Orne department of lower Normandy. There is a Camembert museum in the village which is open all week long in the Summer.
According to locals they claim the original recipe was handed to a housewife in the village by a priest, originally from the Brie area who was on the run during the French Revolution. This enabled the formerly white cheese to be given a rind and allowed it to be kept longer. This Funny enough this longer shelf life increased the popularity of the cheese over all of France to the point that Camembert itself was declared a generic word that the local production had no trademark rights over. The AOP now applies to Camembert de Normandie.
This cheese is made near Camembert to the north of the town of Vimoutiers, which is in the Calvados department of lower Normandy. One of the oldest Norman cheeses and less fatty unlike some of the other rich neighbouring recipes. The rind is a reddish colour and the cheese is wrapped with bands of raffia.
This cheese comes from the village of Neufchatel-en Bray in upper Normandy near the border with Picardy. It is a soft cheese and a has a distinctive heart shape. Legends have it that young women used to offer the cheese hearts to their soldier lovers during The Hundred Years War. It was equally popular amongst the French and their English opponents.
This is a square cheese and the production goes way back into the Middle Ages originally known as ‘Angelot’ and was only given the name of the town near the lower Normandy beach resort of Deauville in the 17th Century. During the French Revolutionary period the name changed to Pont Charlier. Eveque means bishop in French, which was a disapproved religious term during this time. Later it was restored to its current name. The taste for the cheese spread across France and the AOC protection was granted in the 1970’s.