Cidreries in Normandy: visit recap

In the last blog post, I promised you to recap my visits to cider producers in Normandy.

img_1093I thought that 4 days will be more than enough to explore this part of France, but once I reached Normandy I’ve realised that I haven’t planned enough time for both sightseeing and visits to the countless cidreries! The signs inviting visitors to come in and try either cidre, calvados, pommeau, apple vinegar, marmalade or apple juice were literally every kilometre not only on the route du cidre but also outside the cider trail around Fecamp, Etretat, Honfleur, Bayeux, Falaise or the D-Day landing beaches. Cidre is made and sold everywhere in Normandy. Another question is who drinks it. Anyway, with the only 4-day itinerary, I had an opportunity to explore only a tiny bit of Normandy and its cidre. Meaning, I had to restrict myself to only a few cidermakers.

img_0964Ferme de Félicité was the first cider maker I have visited during my journey. They are based near the village of Longues-sur-Mer, close to the German gun batteries from the World War II. At the time of my visit, they were busy pressing apples so I couldn’t see their premises. But I had a brief chat with Claire, who told me more about the cidrerie. At Ferme de Félicité, they work with around 17 apple varieties that are used to make cidre, calvados, pommeau and liqueur de Calvados Félicité, a young calvados macerated with oranges, sugar and coffee beans. In terms of cidre, they produce doux (sweet), demi-sec (semi-sweet), brut (dry) and Cuvée Jardin Bosquain, which is extra dry. The latter appealed the most to my taste buds (I’ll post my tasting notes soon, so watch this space!). Interestingly, you may find their products in shops and restaurants only within the range of 10 km, nowhere else. Since they create approx. 25k bottles annually, they have no interest in distributing their products to further areas.

img_1040Even before coming to Normandy, Olivier from La Ferme de Billy reached out to me and invited to visit their premises and apple orchards. As either Olivier or myself had no service on the phone (that seems to be quite normal in Normandy), we didn’t manage to meet up, but Guillaume, Olivier’s brother was there to meet me. La Ferme de Billy was established in 1651 by the first owner Jacques de Billy. Today, La Ferme de Billy apart from products made from apples, offer brunch menus served with their cidre in a trendy, modern setting and organise art exhibition. The perfect environment for drinking cidre and socializing. Also, they have a very inviting outdoor resting area in the backyard. img_1018If you walk further and pass a little forest, you’ll discover an idyllic place, a Roman 13th-century chapel surrounded by old cidre apple trees. I’ve tried a few apples that fell down. They were much smaller than apples I’ve seen before. All tasted apple varieties were luscious! Back to la Ferme de Billy, for their product range comprising of three kinds of cidre fruité, brut and fraîcheur (tasting notes coming soon) along with ice cider (which is divine!), calvados, pommeau, apple juice and apple vinegar, they use 16 apple varieties. img_0995Recently, they acquired orchards nearby and plan to build a cider house in around two years. I admired their modern thinking outside the box and attempts to make people understand that cidre pairs well with food and with this trying to change the bad image of cidre in Normandy. If I had more time I would definitely have had a brunch there and some cidre as the food looked very inviting. But I had to hit the road as my agenda was quite full.

img_1065Next cidrerie on my journey was Domaine de La Galotière, located in a beautiful small valley in the southern part of Pays d’Auge close to Camembert. They grow approx. 50 different cidre apple varieties and since 1997 have organic certification. Jean-Luc Olivier is in charge of orchards and cidermaking but at the time of my visit, he was busy picking apples. Their product range covers cidre, ice cider (too sweet for my liking), poirè, calvados, pommeau, vinegar and apple juice. I’ll share my tasting notes on their cidre brut later.

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img_1124Pierre Huet is based on the route du cidre in Cambremer and is actually more famous for making calvados than cidre or poirè. The farm has a traditional look with sheeps wandering the apple orchards and displayed very old barrels that were once used to age calvados. I was hoping to take part in the guided tour that was supposed to start at 11am but I was told that it was only in French and required a minimum of 4 participants. Since there were only two of us, we left empty-handed and headed further down the cider trail to Domaine Dupont.

 

Domaine Dupont (La Vigannerie, Victot-Pontfol)

img_1129I believe this cider producer doesn’t require any introduction as their cidre is one of the most widely distributed Norman cidre worldwide. The farm is surrounded by apple orchards and when you drive to the front part of their premises it feels like entering a French manoir. They don’t offer guided tours buy you’re welcome to walk around and visit their distillery, surrounding orchards and cellars with different sizes of oak barrels filled with calvados. As mentioned in my previous post, when I went to their store it was really packed. It was quite shocking compared to other visited cidreries, as most of the time, I was the only guest. Cider wise, Dupont has a line up of six different ciders, including Cidre Bouché, Organic Cider, Cidre Triple, Cidre Réserve, Cuvée Colette and Give, an ice cider. With the exception of ice cider, champagne yeast is added after bottling to make cidre sparkling. At the Dupont’s store, I discovered rather unusual products such as calvados spray used for baking (!) and calvados aged in Islay single malt Scotch whisky cask. I’ve tried their ciders and the just mentioned calvados aged in Islay single malt Scotch whisky and will share my thoughts with you about them in the next blog post.

img_1164When you arrive at Manoir de Grandouet, you have a feeling that you turned back in time as some of the Norman buildings on the farm date back to 16th century. Manoir de Grandouet is set in an incredibly picturesque scenery. Pictures don’t do it justice. The views are simply amazing! Outside you can find an ancient apple press and a table where you can have a brunch. Now in its third generation of family ownership, the Grandval family makes cidre using 20 different apple varieties coming from 28 ha orchards. Lucille was there to welcome me and gave me a tour of the facility and finished with a tasting of their cidre, calvados and pommeau. They were in the middle of apple pressing so it was quite exciting to see how it’s done here. The Grandvals use a pneumatic press. Once pressed, the juice goes to tanks for fermentation with wild yeast at low temperature. After fermentation, cidre is bottled with a tiny amount of white wine yeast. For calvados production, cidre is moved to old oak barrels. Some of them date back even to 1792! If I had to choose only one cidrerie to visit along the route du cidre, Manoir de Grandouet would be the place to go.

img_1213I first met Benoit at CiderWorld 2018 in Frankfurt when he was presenting his cidre. Already then, I was very much impressed with the quality and outstanding taste of his cidre. Needless to say that Benoit’s cidre line up was the highlight of this event in terms of taste. Remembering Benoit’s cidre and his passion when he was showing me pictures of his apple orchards, I knew I had to pay him a visit when being in Normandy. Domaine Lesuffleur is not open to visitors. But Benoit was kind enough to show me his orchards and arranged for a tasting of his cidre and eau-de-vie. Benoit comes from Normandy but over the week he lives in Paris, where he works as a wine retailer selling wine to restaurants and shops. Over the weekend, he dedicates his time solely to cidre.

Back to my visit, we’ve started with the tasting of Benoit’s ciders, Friardel 2016, Missus 2016, La Folletiere 2016, La Folletiere 2015, Pyrrhus 2016 and some experimental ciders. More about the taste in the next blog post. After the tasting, we drove to visit his orchards before the sun goes down. Benoit’s apples are hand-picked and he knows absolutely everything about apple varieties in his orchards and about the soil. I’ve tasted each apple variety and it was fascinating to see the differences in terms of taste. What intrigued me most was that the same apple variety would taste differently when grown on different soil, in a different orchard. I guess that was the moment when I finally understood the meaning of ‘terroir’.

Another surprise was that apples from Benoit’ orchards were still not ripe. Although at most cideries that I visited earlier that were located closer to the coast on the route du cidre, the harvest was in full swing, here further east in La Folletière the apples were still not ready to be picked and required a few further weeks for ripening. Meaning that the climate is different in various parts of Normandy.

During the visit at Benoit’s place and the tasting, I have realised that previously visited cider makers used a known amount of bitter, sweet, bittersweet and sharp apple varieties and fermented them all together and subsequently bottled. Benoit was the only cider maker out of those I have visited who would ferment each variety separately and then decide on the blend after tasting. The visit to Benoit’s place opened my eyes. His cider is unique cause he is a rare species treating cidre like precious wine. Chapeau bas, Benoit.

Watch this space for my tasting notes! Coming soon!