Dining in Normandy.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Normandy in France.
Map courtesy of OnTheWorldM

Enjoying French cuisine on its home ground is a significant reason for visiting France; another reason is to see places of unique interest or great art and architecture that cannot be found elsewhere. Normandy can satisfy both pursuits and many others.

Apart from great food, castles, art, and architecture, Normandy is blessed with 640 km (398 miles) of coastline, providing wonderful sandy beaches. There are also many inland rivers, canals, and lakes, including the River Seine that flows through Paris and into the Atlantic near Honfleur in Normandy.

Normandy also has a great deal of European history, most importantly connecting Normandy to the English throne. In 1066 Guillaume, a Norman-French Duke, William in English, a descendant of a Viking King, conquered England. William was crowned King of England and is a direct relative to the present Queen Elizabeth II. William, better known as William the conqueror, was crowned in Westminster Abbey like all his descendants through to the reigning queen. William the conqueror's granting land to his Norman Barons had a significant effect on the English kitchen, with many French food names becoming part of the English language. Below are just a few examples:

French - English

Bacon - Bacon
Bœuf - Beef
Jambon – Ham
Mouton – Mutton
Porc – Pork
Poulet – Pullet or chicken
Saucisse- Sausage

Documents, mostly in Latin, called the Vikings 'Nortmanni,' which means "men of the North". Nor-man-di means the Northman's land and so that part of France became Normandie, in English Normandy.

Traditional dishes on the menu in Normandy:

Pommeau de Normandie AOP  - This traditional Norman apéritif is a light 16 -18% alcohol made with apple juice and a young Calvados, apple brandy. Pommeaus are drunk cold and made in much the same way as Pineaux de Charente  in Cognac country and Floc de Gascogne in Armagnac country.

L'Andouillette  d’Alençon Grillée à la Crème de Camembert – Andouillette Alençon sausages grilled and served with a cream of Camembert cheese sauce. Andouillettes are mostly made with the intestines and tripe of pigs but the Alençon Andouillette Alençon comes from calves' intestines and tripe. The sausage casing used is entirely natural, so the final sausage has no fixed diameter. Along with all the tubing comes salt, pepper, spices, and a strong smell. Andouillettes are on many menus, but visitors should know that they are an acquired taste.

An andouillette served in a Camembert sauce.
Photograph courtesy of Kent Wang

Gigot de Pré-salé du Mont-Saint-Michel Rôti au Romarin - Roasted leg of lamb with rosemary from the lambs raised on the salt meadows close to the island of Mont-Saint-Michel on the Atlantic coast and the border between Normandy and Brittany. These lambs are raised on the salt meadows; some are salt marshes on France's Atlantic coast. Pré-salé lambs go to market when they are 5-9 months old, and before then, they will have been raised by their mothers for at least 60-90 days, and when weaned, they will spend at least another 75 days grazing in the salt meadows on France's Atlantic shores. The sea air and the sea salt flavor the grasses on which the lambs feed; that creates a uniquely tasting lamb without even the slightest trace of salt. Remember that the French prefer their lamb pink, rosé and unlike steaks, you will not usually be asked how you like your lamb. So advise your waiter if you prefer your lamb well done.

The  Pré-salé lambs near Mont-Saint-Michel
Photograph courtesy of Côte à l'Os

Filet Mignon au Camembert de Normandie au Lait Cru A pork filet mignon prepared with Normandy's famous cheese, the Camembert de Normandie AOP is made with unpasteurized cow's milk. This menu offering is a perfect example of what a Filet Mignon really means. While in the USA, a Filet Mignon indicates a thick cut from a beef filet, the tenderloin, In France, a beef filet mignon is the thin end part of the tenderloin. However, on a French menu, when beef is not noted, Filet Mignon is whole pork tenderloin, the pork filet as it is on this menu listing. The Camembert will have been prepared and melted with crème fraiche, and Normandy's Pommeau with the slices of the pork filet mignon will be served on top of the melted cheese. 

Escalope de Veau IGP à la Normande - A Label Rouge IGP veal scallop prepared with button mushroomsdry cider, and créme fraîche. Some variations may use Calvados, Normandy's famous apple brandy, instead of Cider. France produces some of the country's best veal, and this is its signature dish made with the best veal that Normandy offers. It's not surprising that Normandy has excellent veal. With so much milk, butter, and cream coming from Normandy's cows, there is a surfeit of young males who will not grow up to provide milk.  

     Crème fraiche has a creamy texture, and while it is not like sour cream or yogurt, neither is it a sweet cream. Crème fraîche is a pasteurized and naturally thickened cow's milk, with most offerings having 30% or more fat. The unique taste of crème fraiche comes from the added milk bacteria. There is no English translation for crème fraîche; it is a uniquely French creation, so crème fraiche it remains in English. Button mushrooms were the first mushrooms to be successfully farmed in any quantity, and that happened in Paris; hence the French name: Champignons de Paris.  (A veal escalope is lean veal that has been to flattened both to increase the surface size and to tenderize the meat).

A veal escalope
Photograph courtesy of Images Alight

Marmite Dieppoise – Marmite in the manner of the port and fishing center of Dieppe on the Atlantic coast of Normandy. The name marmite is a traditional name for saltwater and seafood soups and stews and has nothing to do with the much-loved British vegetarian paste called Marmite. The Marmite Dieppoise is a stew, and since this is a saltwater fish stew and Dieppe is also an open sea fishing port, the fish available may change daily. The fish may include turbotsolemackerel, and red mullet, with the seafood including some of Normandy's plentiful shrimps and mussels.  Essential to the flavor is Norman cider, with vegetables, onionsceleryleeksparsley, thymechervilbay leaves, and garlic.  Petit marmites are smaller cooking pots and are often used for serving the soups or stews they contain. 

Marmite Dieppoise
Photograph courtesy of Marie Claire

Poulet de la Vallée d'Auge Chicken in the manner of the Auge Valley is one of Normandy's most popular chicken dishes and includes apples, button mushrooms, fresh cream, dry cider, and Calvados. While not noted on this menu listing Normany has its own Label Rouge, red label, chickens the Poulet Fermier Normand, IGP, which is farmed in the Vallée d'Auge. The whole of the Vallée d'Auge is famed for its agriculture, its dairy produce, and it's also the home of Camembert cheese as well as its apples, and of course, its Cidre de Pays d'Auge AOP and Calvados. The Vallée d'Auge includes most of the departments of Calvados and Orne and a corner of the department of Eure. 

Moules Frites à la Normande - Mussels and French fries in the Norman manner. The broth for this dish will include créme fraîchedry cider, apples and shallots.

Moules Frites à la Normande
Photograph courtesy of Yummy foods by Nancy.

Trou Normand - The custom of the Trou Normand Calvados offered during the meal. Calvados is usually served as a digestif replacing Cognac or Armagnac. However, the Trou Normand is taken as a shot of Calvados, particularly following seafood dishes, to prevent indigestion. The True Normand is now seen on menus when served as a Calvados sorbet; the sorbet version is supposed to awaken the digestive juices.

Sole à la Normande - Filets of lemon sole in the manner of Normandy, with pink shrimps (the common prawn)button mushrooms, fresh cream, white wine, shallots, and dill; a few locally farmed mussels may be added. You may be surprised to see wine in this Norman dish, and while Normandy is not famous for its wine, there are some excellent white Norman wines, and I have seen a local pinot noir red on a wine list.  

     Fish and seafood will overflow from the tables in Normandy with Dover Sole, often on the menu as Sole Français, lemon solesea breamEuropean sea bass, mackerel, sea trout, and more. On local menus, the shellfish include the langouste, the clawless spiny lobster or rock lobster, the owner of the lobster tail, shrimp, king scallopshomard, the European two-clawed lobster, and more. Local sea farms produce oysters and mussels, and freshwater farms rainbow trout. Normandy contains a vast network of streams, ponds, canals, lakes, and marshlands that are home to pikezander or pike-perchfreshwater perch,  European eels, and much more.

Boudin Noir à la Normande -  Black pudding in the manner of Normandy served with Normandy's apples. French boudins noir are usually smaller than the black pudding sausages in the UK, with the most popular just large enough for an individual serving. In France, a boudin noir will often be served with a variety of apple preparations which are the traditional French accompaniment. If you like black puddings, then visit the town of Mortagne-au-Perche, in Normandy. You will begin to realize that the boudin noir is not a sausage for the French, British, and the Irish alone; this is a sausage of importance to all humanity. In the spring, usually on the third Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in March, sausage lovers come to the Mortagne-au-Perche sausage fair from all over the world. The fair is for all sausage lovers though the competition is only open to those who produce the black pudding sausages. The Tourist Information Office for Mortagne-au-Perche will supply information on the following year's fair a few months before.

Boudin Noir à la Normande
Photograph courtesy of La Radio du Goût

Tarte Normande - A Norman apple tart with a Pâte Sablée, a sweet crust pastry Pâte Sablée has the same ingredients as pâte sucrée, but the butter is creamed with the sugar and the eggs before the flour is folded in. This method mixes the butter more evenly, making the dough less puffy and creating a less crumbly texture. Normandy has tens of different apples for its ciders. Every different cider and every Calvados has its favorite combination of apples. One of those apples may in this apple tart, but the Granny Smith apple is one of France's favorites where apple tarts or pies are concerned.

Tarte Normande
Photograph courtesy of Merle ja Joonas

Cheese from Normandy

While France's most famous cheese is Camembert, only a tiny part of the Camembert produced in Normandy can be labeled Camembert de Normandie AOP. However, most locally produced Camemberts are better than the copies made in other countries. Also from Normandy comes three other famous AOP cheeses,  Livarot AOP, Pont-l'Évêque AOP, and Neufchâtel AOP. These cheeses and many others come from milk provided by the descendants of the cows that William's Viking ancestors brought with them. 

Maturing Livarot cheese
Photograph courtesy of Debbi Baron

Butter and Crème Fraîche In Normandy

One of France's top three butters comes from Normandy, the Beurre d'Isigny AOP. Also France's only Crème Fraîche with an AOP also comes from Normandy, the Crème Fraîche d’Isigny AOP. Even without an AOP, butter, cream, or Crème Fraîche from Normandy always carries a premium. The consumers know that the Norman cows, the descendants of those brought by the original Viking settlers, and the fabulous grasses produce many of the best milk products in France. With Norman milk so highly rated, it's not surprising that 15% of the milk bears the AB sign for Agriculture-Biologique, Organic Farming.


Beurre d'Isigny AOP
Photograph courtesy of Carrefour

Cider and Perry

Cidre de Pays d'Auge - One of France's two apple ciders that hold an AOP. In Normandy and Brittany, the local sparkling ciders are served in bottles similar to those used for champagne. While Normandy does have a small number of vineyards sparkling cider often replaces ChampagneCrémant, or another sparkling wine at celebrations. Drive through the Norman Route du Cidre, their cider road, a drive of approximately 40 km (25 miles); that will take you through many beautiful villages, with plenty of restaurants along the way.  Cambremer in the department of Calvados is the largest village on the route and has a Fête des AOP de Normandie usually at the end of April and beginning of May. The fete celebrates all of Normandy's ciders, Calvados, and Pommeau and its wonderful butter, cheeses, and crème fraiche.

Cidre de Poiré and Poiré Domfront AOP - Pear ciders or perries. The best of these is the Poiré Domfront AOP that comes from the area around the small and attractive town of Domfront, in the department of Orne is very close to Brittany. Domfront is in the western part of the Park Naturel Normandie-Maine, the Normandie-Maine Regional Nature Park.  


Cidre de Pays d'Auge
Photograph courtesy of Pierre Huit


Calvados AOP - The most famous apple brandy in the world, and it comes from Normandy in three varieties. Calvados AOP - Holds 70% of the market and comes from apples grown all over Normandy.

Calvados Pays d'Auge AOP - This is made in the old Normandy region of Pays d'Auge that includes parts of the departments of Calvados, Orne, and Eure. Calvados Pays d'Auge is the only Calvados that must be double-distilled.

Calvados Domfrontais AOP - This is the third Calvados and is the last one to be awarded an AOP. This Calvados has a unique and distinctive taste being an apple brandy made with at least 30% pear cider, a perry. The pear eau-de-vie provides a very different taste. Calvados Domfrontais is mainly produced in Orne, Manche, and Mayenne. Even the youngest Domfrontais is aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels.  

Calvados Pays d'Auge AOP
Photograph courtesy of Famille Dupont

The age on the bottle indicates the age when the apples were picked. The brandy would not have been in the barrel for much more than twenty years at the most, usually less. After maturing in the barrel the Calvados will be bottled and like Cognac and Armagnac does not mature in the bottle

The ages of Calvados on the labels.

Fine - Fine Calvados, Trois Étoiles - Three Stars ***, and Trois Pommes, the pictures of three apples - These indicate the youngest Calvados in a blend. They will have been matured for at least two years in oak barrels. 

Vieux, Old, or Réserve, Reserved - These names on the label indicate brandies that have been barrel-aged for at least three years.

 V.O. Very Old, Vieille Réserve, Old Réserve, V.S.O.P. Very Superior Old Pale - These brandies will have been barrel aged for at least four years.

Extra, Napoléon, XO, Extra Old, Hors d'Age, To old to determine or Age Inconnu, Age unknown – These Calvadoses are at least six years old but are often sold with descriptions that indicate they are older. There is no official standard for Calvados over six years old. Markings that suggest they are 20 years old etc. have no legal meaning. The producer's interest in protecting their reputation is considered enough of a guarantee. 

Four of the many many places to visit in Normandy.

Monet's Garden in Giverny - Giverny is famous for the home and garden of Monet, the painter. Claude Monet was one of the founders of the impressionist movement. Monet was born in Normandy in the town of Le Havre on the Atlantic coast in the department of Seine-Maritime. Giverny is just 50 minutes from Paris, but for the visitor, it is a world away; it is in Normandie, in the department of Eure.

A path in Monet's garden
Photograph courtesy of Tom Hilton

The Bayeux Tapestry - Preserved and displayed in the museum in the town of Bayeux, a medieval town in the department of Calvados, The tapestry, really an embroidery 70 meters (230') long, represents figures and pictures showing William the Conqueror's conquest of England .'The Bayeux Tapestry was probably commissioned in the 1070s by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, half-brother of William the Conqueror. 

Every year, on the first weekend in July, the Bayeux Medieval Festival is a landmark event in the town. Bayeux was miraculously spared by bombing in June 1944. It was the first city in mainland France to be liberated and home to the largest British war cemetery from WWII in Normandy.

Le Palais Bénédictine, the Benedictine Palace - Le Palais Bénédictine is not the home of royalty, it is the factory that produces the Bénédictine D.O.M. liqueur, a sweet, orange, and honey flavored, 40% proof liqueur. It is named after the Bénédictine monks who purportedly created it. This liqueur is only made in the pretty Atlantic coastal town of Fecamp in the department of Seine-Maritime in Normandy, France. That palace looks more like a freaked-out French version of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry than a palace. Nevertheless, here Bénédictine D.O.M is made and it makes an interesting place to visit.

Rouen and its Cathédrale Notre-Dame  - Rouen, the Norman-French city, dates back to the Gauls. Rouen is set on the River Seine and is the capital of Normandy. Rouen would become important to the Romans as an inland port from the Atlantic connecting to Paris, originally a village called Lutetia.  After the Romans came the Vikings, and it was that group of Vikings who metamorphosed into the Norman-French over hundreds of years. Ever since Rouen became the Norman French capital in the 11th Century, Rouen has always been the Prefecture, the regional capital.

The inhabitants of Rouen call themselves Rouennais, and your menu will offer dishes á la Rouennais; in the manner of Rouen. Dishes á la Rouennais are not a unified cooking style but rather the local version of a particular dish; Rouen is the capital of Normandie, so it is Norman cuisine that most restaurants will be serving. During the 100 years of war between England and France, Rouen was claimed for England by King Henry V, and later it was here that Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431. Rouen once again became part of France in 1449 when the English were expelled.

Rouen is famous for its Gothic Cathedral; the main structure was built in the 13th century, but the building was not completed until the 18th century. It is considered one of France's most significant examples of Gothic architecture. Now wholly reconstructed from WWII's damage and renowned for Claude Monet's impressionist paintings of the cathedral. Monet, over two years from 1892, made over 30 paintings that show the cathedral at the very time of day and in every season. When I visited Rouen, there was only one of those paintings on show in the City's museum, though there were at least a number of reproductions of the others.

Rouen is not just a Cathedral and a place to enjoy Norman cuisine. Rouen is the cultural center of Haute Normandie and had its own opera house in the 18th century; that opera house was destroyed in WWII, and a new Théâtre des Arts opened in 1962, the permanent home of L'Opéra de Rouen, Haute Normandie. 

Rouen is also an industrial city with a very active inland seaport set on the River Seine; it is set nearly midway between Paris and the sea. The port is called Rotomagus, the name the Romans gave to the city.

A Famous Recipe that may not be on your menu today.

Canard de Rouen - The Rouen duckling will be part of many menus though its most famous recipe Canard à la Pressé or Canard à la Rouennaise is too expensive to be on many modern menus. The Canard de Rouen is a farm-raised cross with the mallard duck that, together with the recipe, originated in the capital of Normandy, the city of Rouen. To read more about Canard à la Pressé click here.

A famous chefs from Normandy's history

Guillaume Tirel, best known as Taillevent (1310-1395) - The first cook to be officially appointed Chef to a King of France.  Taillevent served the French King Charles V and later his son King Charles VI. Taillevent was born in the town of Pont-Audemer, now part of the department of Eure in Normandy. He is accepted as the author of the first published French cookbook, Le Viander. The book was published about 100 years after his death in various versions, and some of the contributions are disputed. From time to time, reprints, including English translations, are still being printed; the last English reprint I saw was published in 2002. A copy of the original book may also be downloaded free of charge via Project Gutenberg.


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Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Copyright 2010, 2022, 2023.


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