Cidre - Cider in France. France's Fabulous Ciders, Sparkling Ciders and Basque Cider.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman


A Normadie, Normandy, cider shop.
Also on sale here are, Calvados Pays d'Auge and Pommeau.
Photograph by courtesy  Yves Remedios.
The origins of the name cider in the UK and France.
The drink we call cider was brought to England by the Normans; then they called it sider or sydre, and that became in  English cider and modern French cidre. For various reasons, including local usages that never changed, the words sider or sydre will still be seen on cider bottles in certain areas in France. In fact, I discovered, when tracing the origins of the word sider, sydre, and cider they go back further than Norman French, though then they were not specifically applied to apples; notes the Random House Dictionary tracing the word’s origins back to Biblical Hebrew.
France is justifiably proud of its many apple ciders with the most famous ciders coming from the régions of Normandie, Normandy, and Bretagne, Brittany, as well as the Pay Basque, the Basque country in south-west France. Despite that plug for France’s three most famous cider producing regions there are plenty of apples to go around in France, and you will find many other, excellent, local ciders, less famous perhaps, but still excellent.

Cider apples awaiting the press.
A single cider may contain over 15 different cider apples to arrive at the correct taste; the job of the apple master is to realize that same taste every season.
Cider: (Catalan - sidra), (Dutch - cider), (German - apfelwein, apfelmost), (Italian - cedro), (Spanish – sidra dulce used for apple juice or non-alcoholic cider, and sidra used for alcoholic cider).
French ciders are typically alcoholic ciders, and may contain up to 6% alcohol; the label must show the percentage. Alcohol-free cider is the exception in France and when available will usually be called nouveau, a new cider; it will be a still apple juice and alcohol-free; however, always check the label.  Generally, the sweeter the cider the less alcohol it will contain.
                  Cidre Doux – A sweet cider that has between 1.5 – 3% alcohol.
                 Cidre Demi-Sec – A medium dry cider with 3- 3.5% alcohol.
                  Cidre Sec or Cidre Brut – A dry cider, with at least 5% alcohol.
For the meanings and regulations behind the initials AOP and AOC  see the link at the end of this post.

A bottle of Normandie brut, a dry bouche cider.
Photograph by courtesy of yrpopqueen.
Cider in Brittany
When you order cider in Brittany do not be surprised when, instead of a glass, you are served with a Bolée à Cidre; a bolée is the traditional cup used to drink Bretagne’s cider. A bolée will not be offered in every restaurant, but when it is offered you will see a seemingly rather oddly shaped tea cup that holds about 200 cl of cider. N.B. Some of these bolées are made without handles.         
A crepe Bretonne accompanied by a carafe of cider with a traditional bolée à cidre cup.
  bolée is Brittany's special cider cup; it is seen on the right-hand side of the picture.
 Photograph by courtesy of Marie Guillaumet.
For more on the Crepe Bretonne see link for crepes, pancakes, and waffles at the end of this post.
Basque cider; sidra in the Basque language 
In the Basque country, their cider is called sidra, their various ciders have very different tastes to the ciders from the North, and the best are considered those that have the sharpest taste. Basque ciders are flat ciders, not sparkling. The Basques claim that the Pays Basque is the home of the original cider apple; with all other cider apples in the world being the descendants of their Basque apple.  The Basque country has at least two different routes de sidreria, cider roads, as well a separate Route Gourmande des Pays Basques, the Basque country gourmand’s road. My suggestion would be to order these maps in advance, and then look for those parts of the routes that are close to each other, how can you go wrong with that?  During the day enjoy Basque cider and traditional Basque dishes, in the evening sample fine Basque wines and the best of the new Basque cuisine. N.B. An interesting tradition is the way the Basques drink cider; try it while you are there.

A dry Basque sparkling cider "Basa Jaun".
Photograph by courtesy of Renée Suen.   
On a memorable visit to Giverny, near Paris, famous for the home and garden of Monet, the painter, we decided to try some of the local Norman cuisine before we went to see, once again, the beautiful garden that had inspired the painter.   Giverny is just 50 minutes from Paris, but for the visitor, it is a world away in Normandie, in the département of Eure.   We had chosen a sunny day, and so when we stopped for a light lunch we chose a restaurant with a garden; there we ordered their chef’s recommended pâté accompanied by a dry Norman cidre bouché; that is a sparkling cider that comes in a champagne shaped bottle.  Our bottle noted brut, dry, and 5% alcohol.  By the time we had finished our snack that I admit included some excellent patisseries, coffee and, of course, the country air, we felt at peace with the world. Indeed, by the time we arrived at Monet's home his garden glowed the way I believe it did while he was painting it!
French sparkling cider.

A bottle of cidre bouche, French sparkling cider, with its traditional champagne style bottle and cork.
The cider here is accompanied,
as may be expected in both Normandy or Brittany, by an apple pie.
Photograph by courtesy of mightymightymatze.
Cidre AB or Cidre Agriculture Biologique – When the label contains the initials AB, agriculture biologique, then that is an organic cider certified by the French government.
The official French government mark that will be on all inspected organic produce, ciders, and wines.
When a label reads Cidre Fermier AB  that indicates that the organic cider was produced on the same farm where the apples were grown.
Cidre Bouché   The French sparkling cider; a naturally sparkling cider that comes in a champagne type bottle with a champagne type cork. This French sparkling cider is sold with a variety of tastes that correspond to the degree of alcohol and sweetness, all noted on the bottle.  Cidre bouché is often the drink of choice at celebrations in Normandy and Brittany and elsewhere.
Cidre Brut -  A dry sparkling French cidre bouché; the best cider to accompany most fish or meat dishes. A dry cider, like a dry wine, does not interfere with the tastes of most dishes as would a sweet cider or sweet wine.
Cidre Cornouaille AOP (AOC) This is the Bretagne, Brittany’s AOC cider. Its apples come from the area called Cornouaille in the département of Finistère. If you are visiting this area take their Route du Cidre AOC Cornouaille, their cider road.  For those visiting from the UK and investigating the relationship between Bretagne, Brittany and Britain note that Cornouaille is Cornwall in English, and the département of Finistère’s  name means Land’s End!  Like all other ciders this comes in a variety of strengths, look at the label.
Cidre de Poiré and Poiré Domfront (AOC) AOP - Pear ciders or perries. The best of these is the Poiré Domfront (AOC) AOP  comes from the area around the small and attractive town of Domfront, in Normandy, very close to Brittany, in the western part of the Park Naturel Normandie-Maine.  Here, you will find in the same area producers of the Calvados Domfrontais (AOC) AOP, a Calvados apple brandy made with at least 30% pear cider. Cidre de Poiré is not to be confused with poire au cidre on a  menu, that would be pears cooked in apple cider! 
Cidre de Pays d'Auge (AOC) AOP – Cider that comes from the Pays d'Auge  in the département of Calvados. Drive through their route du cidre, their cider road, a drive of approximately 40 kms; that drive will take you through many beautiful villages, with plenty of restaurants along the way. Cambremer is the largest village on the route and has a Fête des AOC de Normandie in May celebrating their cider, Calvados, Pommeau as well as the wonderful butters, cheeses and crème fraiche all from of Normandy.
Cidre en Fut – Cider in a barrel, draft cider.
Cidre Fermier - Farm produced cider. Grown and processed to cider and bottled on the same farm.  If the cider is organic, then the letters AB will be on the label.
Cidre Nouveau  –  A new, young,  cider; nouveau cider is mostly alcohol-free, however, please do check the label.  Most new ciders are sweet as they are not far removed from when they were just apple juice.


Apple Juice
Photograph by courtesy of  Thierry Llansades.
Cidre Traditionnel - Traditional cider; in England called hard cider.  The labels on these ciders usually indicate 6% alcohol, and you will find that these are extremely pleasant dry ciders that have less sparkle than other French sparkling ciders.
Cidres IGP – Ciders that have been granted the European Union, certification covering their particular area of production.
Cidriculteur  -   A cider producer.
Bar à Cidre  - A cider bar sometimes called a Bar à Sidre and in the Basque country called cider a sideria. These cider bars also offer the aperetif pommeau and wine brandies; in Normandy that is Calvados AOC, and in Brittany Lambig.
Routes de Cidre – Cider Roads.
The routes de cidre will take you through the cider country, via producers that are willing to let you see, in season, how their product is made, and while there you may try their product; if you like  their cider you may buy a bottle for a small contribution to the local economy.  Take the routes de cidre together with other the other maps offered by the tourist offices in Normandy you will find cider producers near to the producers of cheeses, cream, butter, oyster and mussel farms, and, of course, restaurants. In Normandy expect plenty of seafood and cream sauces and on their cheese plates and trolleys their famous  AOP (AOC) cheeses: Camembert, Brie, Livarot, Neufchâtel, and Pont-l’Évêque along with other excellent local cheeses. 


In Brittany celebrations with oysters at the center
will often be accompanied by cidre bouché , not champagne.
Photograph courtesy of Baie de Morlaix Tourisme.
In Brittany combine their routes de cidre not with cheese but with visits to oyster and mussel farms; along Brittany’s coast expect nothing but the finest shrimps, lobsters, crabs, other seafood and sea fish. For more about France's delicious shrimps, crabs, rock lobsters, mussels and oysters see the links at the end of this post.
If you are visiting Southern Normandy and looking for cider, take a trip to the small town of Nogent-le-Rotrou.  Here, are based the Commanderie Percheronne des Gouste-Cidre, a commanderie is similar to a confrérie, a brotherhood and sisterhood that promotes local products.  This commanderie organizes those of similar dependable and unwavering faith, to protect and promote cider from all over France; in other words, they try to ensure that we all drink cider every day, wherever we may be in France. Of interest to others  will be the nearby town of Mortagne-au-Perche, the site of the international Foire de Boudin Noir,  the international black pudding sausages fair. Here, you may enjoy cider and black pudding sausages, wonderful!
Pommeau de Normandie  (AOP) AOC
and Pommeau de Bretagne (AOP) AOC
 In Normandy and Brittany many cider producers also produce pommeau, a light 16-18% alcohol apéritif made with apple juice and a young apple brandy; in Normandy that is a young Calvados and in Brittany a young Lambig. Pommeaus  are made in much the same way as Pineaux de Charente  is made in Cognac country and Floc de Gascogne  in Armagnac country; there they use grape juice and a young Cognac  or a young Armagnac. When made in the wine country, they call these light alcoholic apéritifs  reinforced wines; I have not checked but surely pommeau must, therefore, be called a reinforced cider?
The Pommeau de Normandie  (AOP) AOC and the Pommeau de Bretagne (AOP) AOC are the most famous  of the many excellent Norman and Brittany pommeaus.  Many the Norman cider producers also make one of the three different Calvados apple brandies; it will need another post and more dedicated tasting to describe the differences in  the three different Calvados AOC brandies.
For your lunch or dinner apéritif  in Brittany choose between a Bretagne pommeau and a Kir Breton; a Kir Breton is the local version of  Burgundy's famous Kir apéritif; here the white wine replaced by an excellent cider or for a Kir Royal Breton  a sparkling cider.

Links of interest:

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman


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