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Chocolat Glatigny

Chocolat Glatigny

I’ve already mentioned the “Visites Chocolat” that take place on Sundays at the nearby Château de Carrouges, but there is a much older and widespread chocolate-making tradition in Normandy.

Le Petit Negre

Le Petit Negre

In Alençon there are several excellent chocolate makers, the most scrumptious of  which (in our opinion, at least) are “Pedro” and “Chocolats Glatigny”.    The chocolate shops are concentrated in Grande Rue and the adjoining Rue St Blaise.

The Chocolatier Pedro is one of those in Grande Rue, next to the Place de Madeleine and the fabulous Notre Dame church (of which more another time).  Perched on the wall near the shop is a tiny statue which is known as “Le Petit Negre”.  The origins of the curious statue are unknown, but he seems appropriate next to a chocolate shop.  The chocolate shop also has a tearoom where you can sample the chocolates and cakes made on the premises.

Both Pedro and Glatigny are “artisanale” chocolate makers – scrummy but rather expensive.  But as an occasional treat, they are irresistible.

Both do occasional demonstrations of chocolate maker’s art, but their workshops are not open on a regular basis.  However, a little further away at Bayeux (a town well worth a day trip if you’re staying near Alençon) there is the “Drakkar” chocolate factory, which is open to the public.  You can also buy their chocolates on line at chocolat drakkar bayeux .   “Drakkar” means longboat, a common symbol in Normandy, harking back to when it was settled by the Vikings, the Norsemen from whom the region takes its name.

Chocolate shops in Alençon:

Au Carré Croquant, 113, Grande Rue 61000 – Alençon

Au Péché Mignon, 57, Rue Saint Blaise 61000 – Alençon

Chocolats Glatigny, 44, Grande Rue 61000 – Alençon

Pedro, 39, Grande Rue 61000 – Alençon

Aux Friandises d’Alençon, 27, Grande Rue 61000 – Alençon

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Bière Noël

Bière Noël

“En été, brasse qui peut … en hiver, brasse qui veut” is a saying that roughly translated “Brew in the summer if you can, brew in the winter as you will”.

The old adage reflects the difficulties faced by brewers of yore – in summer, other work demands, storage of grain from the year before and controlling the temperature crucial to the fermentation process made brewing beer difficult.  Consequently, the start of the traditional beer brewing period in Northern France was September 29, Saint Michael’s Day.   This was the date when the barley harvested that year could be relied on to be sufficiently sprouted, or malted, to begin brewing.  The brewing season then went on until St George’s Day, April 23.

The earliest brews, straight after harvest in September, enjoyed the cooler temperatures of autumn to mature gently for several weeks and came to full maturity around Christmas: this was is the origin of Christmas beer.

Originally, brewers used to have enough of this beer only for their immediate family and most valued customers at the Xmas holiday.  Now that advances in technology allow brewers better to control fermentation, Christmas beer is available in quantities for everyone to enjoy.

However, Christmas beer is still only on sale in France from mid-November to late December.  Hurry to get it before it is too late!

Christmas beer is nowadays made from the best blend of malts: pale malts, which give it strength, and roasted malts that give it color and taste. It is slightly stronger and more aromatic than other beers because of its rich raw ingredients: the breweries these days generally also add to their Christmas brew extra spices like cinnamon, coriander, ginger and honey.

What is it like?  From extensive experiments and tasting, I can tell you that:

  • To look at, it is anything from dark amber to brown in colour with a thick, soft and dense head
  • To smell it is very fruity, with complex aromatic notes – frequently cinnamon
  • To the taste, it is rich, fruity with caramel tones
  • In strength it is a little higher in alcohol content than many standard beers at around 6° (but up to 9°).

A consommer avec modération!

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Cider and Poiré

Cider Festival

Cider Festival

We’re often asked where is the best place to buy cider. The obvious answer and most convenient place to buy is actually a supermarket, where there is always a wide choice of Normandy “cidre bouché de Normandie”, locally produced Normandy cider in wire-corked bottles. Among the mass-produced stuff you can almost always find some “cidre artisanale” produced by local farms.

But for those who like to buy direct from the producer, there are also plenty of cider farms selling direct to the public. However, you may have to be careful what time you choose to visit. As an example, the Verger de la Vallée (at “Les Rues”, Larré 61250, Orne) is open Saturday and Sunday mornings and is currently selling cider at 2.20€ per bottle and apples at 0.90€ a kilo.

For a half day visit we recommend the Hermitière at La Cour, which has an exhibition and, last Sunday of October, public demonstrations of cider making.  Open every day from April to end of October, morning and afternoon (closed for lunch).

Other producers selling direct to the public nearby include:

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