Archive for the ‘food and drink’ Category

Confiture de lait

Confiture de lait

Confiture de lait or “milk jam” is similar to “dulce de leche” but here in Normandy it is made from whole milk rather than condensed milk.

It is often eaten in Normandy on bread, toast, or pain au lait, or as a topping for pancakes or ice cream.

Ingredients for 2 jars of confiture de lait:

  • 1 l of whole milk
  • 500 g sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod or 4 packets of vanilla sugar (in which case, deduct equivalent weight from the 500 g of sugar)


1. Pour the milk, sugar and split vanilla pod into a large saucepan

2. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for about 2 hours

3. Stir every 10 minutes – important!

4. When the mixture takes on a golden caramel colour and thickens, remove the vanilla pod

5. The milk jam is ready when it forms a paste (like Nutella or thick honey)

6. Fill sterilized jars (a dishwasher will sterilize the jars), seal and turn upside down. The turning upside down helps seal the sterilised jars.

7. Once cool put in fridge. Keep jam milk in the fridge and wait 2-3 days before eating.

The milk jam will keep for several months in the sealed jars.

Here is a variant for chocolate milk jam:

To make chocolate milk jam,  then just at the point when you remove the vanilla pod stir and melt 50 grams of chopped-up chocolate in the mixture.

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Normandy Mussels

Normandy Mussels

Forget your Michelin restaurant haute cuisine – moules-frites is the favourite French dish in the seafood regions of the north and west of France.  All sorts of shellfish such as oysters, scallops and mussels  are harvested along the Normandy and Brittany coastlines – the picture opposite was taken on a recent trip to the coast.

Here’s a simple but tasty traditional way of preparing mussels, to be served with frites and crusty bread.  The Normandy version of “moules marinières” with cider in place of wine.  Obviously, you can substitute equivalent good quality ingredients for the Normandy butter, cider and cream according to what’s available in your locality.

Serves 4


  • 2 litres of wild mussels (approximately 1.6 kg)
  • 2 shallots
  • a bunch of parsley
  • a branch of thyme
  • 20 cl of Normandy cream (or crème fraiche)
  • 90 g Normandy butter
  • egg yolk
  • dry Normandy cider
  • olive oil
  • freshly ground pepper


Soak the mussels in a bowl of cold water.  Scrape and brush the mussels clean. Remove the beard.  Rinse in a colander under running water.  Discard any mussels that are chipped and any that do not close when tapped. Peel and chop the shallots. Wash and chop the parsley.  Mix together the egg yolk and cream.

Pour two to three tablespoons of olive oil in a cast iron casserole/pot. Add mussels and chopped shallots and sweat on medium-high heat for a few minutes. When the shells open, add a glass of dry cider, a branch of thyme, butter and egg/cream mixture.  Add pepper to taste. Do not add salt. Cover and allow to cook over medium/low heat for a few minutes until mussels are fully open -  do not allow to boil.

When cooked, sprinkle the mussels with finely chopped parsley. Serve immediately in the casserole with side dish of chips and some dry Normandy cider.

Moules frites

Moules frites

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Most people are aware that Normandy is famous for cider, but not so many know that it was once also a major wine producing region. Wine used to be produced throughout Normandy until the reign of Louis XIII when, because of taxes on wine, the vineyards in Normandy were nearly all pulled up and the cultivation of apples developed and improved.

However, wine production on a small scale continues to this day.

For instance, just a few miles north of us in the Orne is the vignoble of Hanaps. So well known is this particular winegrowing denomination that I lived here 5 years before I found out about it.

The tiny Hanaps vignoble is in the area around the small Normandy town of Vingt-Hanaps. An association has been formed to promote the wine and they are beginning work on a cave for storing the wine on the site of the principal domaine in 2009.

A short distance to the south of us are two better known AOC regions in the Sarthe – Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir. This wine growing region (sometimes called “Touraine”, after Tours) lies just south of Le Mans along the Loir river (without an “e”) and is highly regarded, though not well-known in the UK.

Jasnières are white wines produced from Chenin Blanc (also known as Pineau de la Loire) – floral and fruity, with a hint of honey. It is the northernmost of the Loire wine producing regions, lying between Tours and Le Mans. There are approximately 20 producers of Jasnières wine.

Coteaux du Loir are mainly reds made from Pineau d’Aunis, Cabernet, Côt and Gamay, plus some rosés with the addition of up to 25% Grolleau – they are all light and aromatic wines.

Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir

Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir

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Crême de Mûres Recipe

Crême de Mûres or Crême de Cassis Recipe

Creme de Cassis

Creme de Cassis

Blackberries grow in abundance in local hedgerows – we pick them in late summer/early autumn and use them for jams, crumbles and for making home-made crême de mûres, similar to crême de cassis. It is often used to make kir (an aperitif where it is mixed with chilled, dry white wine) or kir royale (mixed with dry champagne, crémant or other bubbly).

Here’s a simple recipe for this delicious home-made liqueur. In place of blackberries (mûres) you could use blackcurrants (cassis), blueberries (myrtilles) or raspberries (framboises).





1 kilo blackberries (or blackcurrants, raspberries or myrtilles)
2 litres decent, medium-bodied red wine


1. Wash fruit and mash in a blender.
2. Add red wine and leave it to macerate in a covered bowl for 48 hours in a cool place.
3. Strain the mixture through a muslin cloth.
4. Weigh the juice and add an equal weight of sugar.
5. Bring the mixture to the boil in a pan and leave to boil for 5 minutes.
6. Allow to cool to about 40 degrees (tepid) then strain again (if necessary) and bottle.

The crême de mûres (or cassis, or myrtilles) is ready to drink after a couple of weeks, keeps indefinitely.

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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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