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.

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!

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Is Normandy really the land of cider?


Normandie. Terre de cidre. Normandy. The land of cider. This is a description for Normandy, which I found on a 3-pack bottle carrier for transport of purchased cider. But my recent visit to Normandy didn’t exactly give me the impression I’m in the land of cidre. I felt it was more of a wishful thinking of local cidre producers than the actual status quo. Here is why.

When you are driving west from Paris and heading to Normandy you can easily say that you are getting closer to Normandy when you start passing apple orchards with huge apple trees and subsequently multiple road signs saying cidre, calvados, pommeau or jus de pomme. Trust me, I could barely contain my excitement and each time considered making a detour. But I continued driving as I also wanted to learn more about Normandy and see the most beautiful natural places and important historic places of this French region. I have planned to visit cider makers a bit later on my trip.

After seeing on the way to Fecamp and then to Etretat and Honfleur countless apple orchards and noticing that stores offer local products from Normandy such as cheese, marmalade and cidre created by producers I have never heard of, I was initially convinced I’m in a cider paradise. The first moment of doubt occurred in the beautiful port city of Honfleur. I went to a restaurant in the port area wanting to try local seafood and cidre, of course. Firstly, I looked at the wine list listing red and white wines along with provided information about the wine type, winemaker and vintage. Secondly, I started looking for a cidre list. But all I could find was one anonymous cidre, which you could order either by the glass, pitcher or bottle. Just as if it was a table wine. Nothing about the producer or the year it was created. I’ve looked around and noticed that everyone was drinking either wine or beer. Nobody was having cidre! It needs to be said that most of the restaurant guests were tourists as I couldn’t hear anyone speaking French. After I left the restaurant, I’ve discovered a cider bar nearby and breathed a sigh of relief. But although it was barely 10 pm, the place was already closed so I couldn’t evaluate their cidre selection.

On the next day, after visiting D-Day beaches, where the Allies landed in 1944, I went to a sort of a fine dining restaurant close to Arromanches-les-Bains hoping to see a cidre list this time. Again, I found a long wine list providing detailed information about winemakers and vintage. And, one single cidre. In contrast to the restaurant in Honfleur, I could find information about the cider maker producing the cidre and the year it was created. Do I have to mention that I was the only one drinking cidre in the whole restaurant occupied by only French guests this time?

Then I visited a small town of Beuvron-en-Auge, located on the cider trail, which is advertised as a cider town. The weather was sunny, everyone was sitting outside sipping beer. I haven’t seen a single person drinking cidre.

I was deeply confused with what I saw. On the one hand, there are plenty of cider producers around and lots of shops offering cidre. On the other hand, I could barely see anyone drinking cidre here. Could that be that people from a region with such a rich and long cidre tradition and countless apple orchards bearing excellent fruit, simply perfect for cider, do not appreciate their heritage? When I was already on the cider trail I shared my observations with cider producers such as Guillaume of La Ferme de Billy, Lucile of Manoir de Grandouet and Benoit of Domaine Lesuffleur. Each of them had similar thoughts and pointed out that cidre is, unfortunately, still considered in Normandy the drink of the poor. So how to change it?

  • First of all, cider pairs very well with food. With Normandy cuisine such as seafood or cheese particularly well. So one approach is to educate restaurant owners that there are plenty of local Normandy dishes that pair greatly with cidre. Flavours of cidre can add complexity to the dish and increase the richness of the dining experience. This is for the benefit of the restaurant owner. Moreover, there are more types of cidre than just brut (dry), demi-sec (semi-sweet) and doux (sweet). Normandy cidre differs not only in terms of the level of sweetness but also the level of tannins and acidity. Furthermore, cidre can have strong wild notes or can have a clean taste with no funk. There is no one Normandy cidre! Example: La Ferme de Billy, based in Rots, literally 5km from Caen, seems to be one of the cidre makers trying to educate and change the image of cidre. At their cider house, they offer brunch with hot and cold dishes and educate their guests on how to pair cidre with served dishes to maximise the dining experience.
  • Cider is made like wine and should be treated like wine. So providing information about the production method, apple varieties and taste profile can create a unique story around the cidre. Additionally, I am encouraging Normandy cidre producers to make cidre like wine instead of fermenting all apple varieties together. Create a Normandy cuvée. Try fermenting apple juice obtained from different apple varieties in separate tanks and blend only after tasting creating cidre with different taste profile suitable for various palates and dishes. Example: This is how Benoit from Domaine Lesuffleur makes his cidre. Instead of pressing and fermenting all apple varieties in one tank, he ferments the juice obtained from each apple variety in a separate tank and subsequently blends them creating sophisticated and absolutely delicious cidre, the champagne of apples. Trust me, taste-wise cidre made by Benoit has nothing in common with the most locally produced cidre. But I have to warn you. Once you try a cidre from Benoit, there is no way back to a regular Normandy cidre.
  • What I’m going to propose may sound controversial but I think that the price for a bottle of Normandy cidre is too low. With the current retail price for a 75cl bottle in a range of 3.5-4.5 EUR, increasing the price could be a smart business strategy. This is a psychological thing. People simply more appreciate products that have a higher price tag. Example: At Domaine Dupont, a 37.5cl bottle of a cider aged in calvados barrels cost at approx. 6 EUR. Despite relatively high prices for their ciders and other products, their store was packed at the time of my visit and the salespersons were very busy barely finding time to serve you (although they were really trying hard).

Summarizing, I thought I came to a land of absolutely amazing cidre tradition dating back to the 8th century but as it turned out cidre is still underestimated and treated here as a beverage that is much less worth than wine or beer. Although cidre is sold practically everywhere, it’s not treated the way it deserves. However, changes are slowly coming. The new generation of cidre producers is trying to change the image of cidre using different approaches in terms of making cidre but also serving or pricing cidre. I may only wish that more cidre makers will join the cider revolution in France. Viva la révolution du cidre!

In the next blog post, I will share with you the recap of my visits to cider producers on the route du cidre in Normandy. So stay tuned!img_1086

Lazy Fox Cider Ingwer-Basilikum

With Lazy Fox, three friends from Hamburg, Robin, Sascha and Henning wanted to introduce a beverage that could be positioned somewhere between cocktails and soft drinks. So they created a range of ciders, the Original (which I have already tried here), the Ingwer-Basilikum (ginger-basil) and the Cranberry-Minze (cranberry-peppermint). Today I’m sampling the ginger-basil flavoured version. Company: Lazy Fox GmbH
Place of Origin: Hamburg, Germany
Ingredients: apple wine, water, sugar, carbon dioxide, natural ginger and basil flavours with other natural flavours, citric acid, sulphites
ABV: 4.9%
Package type: 330ml clear glass bottle with crown cap
Recommended type of glass: pint glass or

Appearance: pours a clear pale golden with a short-lived white fizz. Medium artificial carbonation. Low body.

Aroma/Nose: the nose is weak with notes of pineapple, ginger, butter, alcohol, green notes with peppermint but not basil or apple.

Taste: it starts very sweet of sugar with a low acidity of lemon. Followed by a bit spicy flavour of ginger with notes of butter, light fresh apple, peppermint and light alcohol. Finishes quickly leaving a fruity, spicy and a bit chemical aftertaste.

Overall: this is officially the worst German cider I have ever tried so far. I have a feeling that someone wanted to poison me with this as it tastes like a fruity washing up liquid. It has unpleasant notes of something buttery with some sort of chemical notes. Thankfully, the taste doesn’t linger on. Did anyone try it before it hit the shelves? I couldn’t drink it and it went down the sink. Horrible stuff. 1.5/6 

Availability: online in Germany from their online shopCiderei and Getränke Paradies Wolf. In Switzerland through PiffPaff.

Price: Lazy Fox Cider Ingwer-Basilikum was a sample provided by Ciderei,

Cidrerie du Château de Lézergué Cidre Fermier

Although Cidrerie du Château de Lézergué from Brittany was set up in 1990, the first cidre was made by the Jan-Autret brothers only in 1996. This is because apples used for cidre require a minimum of six years of growth before they fruit and can be used for cidre.

Cidre Fermier is a cider made on the farm using apples grown on this specific farm.Company: Cidrerie du Chateau de Lezergue
Place of Origin: Ergué-Gabéric, Cornouaille, Brittany, France
Apples: 
locally grown cider apples
ABV:
4.5%
Package type:
750ml green glass champagne corked and wired bottle
Recommended type of glass: white wine glass, chalice glass, flute or bollée

Appearance: pours a clear vivid orange with a large white head that quickly reduces to a ring. High carbonation. Body is medium.

Aroma/Nose: the nose is strong and sweet with notes of apricots, floral hints, fresh apples and a hint of green apples. Also, hints of wood, honey and caramel.

Taste: it starts moderately sweet with a low acidity. Further down medium astringency, fresh apple and fresh apple flesh, apricots, wood, with floral hints. Finishes citrusy with a hint of honey and a touch of apple seed-like bitterness.

Overall: Excellent! The first thing you notice is its seducing scent. It’s strong and gentle at the same time. Floral notes accompanied by fruity flavours dominated by fresh apples along with wood, honey and caramel are simply irresistible. The Fermier is something I could smell all day long. Once you decide to take a sip you fall even deeper for this cidre. The taste is again floral and fruity with apricot and apple aromas rounded up by many delicious flavours and extremely longlasting. The tannin is there but just rounds up the taste, without giving the mouth puckering effect. For me, it could be a tiny bit less sweet but perhaps it is because I’m having it on its own. With mild or delicate cheese, it would taste absolutely perfect. Well done! 5.5/6

Availability: mainly in Brittany, France. But also available from Ciderbar in Copenhagen.

Price: a sample of this cidre was provided by Lucian from Cidrerie du Château de Lézergué.

Hogan’s Wild Elder

In terms of taste, elderflower might be associated with the spring or summer. But elderflower has also a wide range of health benefits, especially useful for this time of year. There is a solid scientific evidence that elderflower has antiviral & antibacterial effects and what’s more important it can boost the immune system. What I’m trying to say here is that if you’re looking for an excuse to drink cider with elderflower, just say it’s for your own good. This is why I put my hands on the Wild Elder from Hogan’s Cider.Company: Hogan’s Cider
Place of Origin: Alcester, Warwickshire, UK
Ingredients: English cider apple juice, water, sugar, elderflower cordial, carbon dioxide, malic acid, preservative: potassium metabisulphite (sulphites)
ABV: 4%
Package type: 500ml amber glass with crown cap
Recommended type of glass: pint glass or chalice glass

Appearance: pours a clear pale amber with a white head that quickly dissipates. Medium carbonation. Body is low to medium.

Aroma/Nose: the nose is very aromatic and smells sweetish, a bit syrupy and fruity of elderflower and grapefruit. Also, I can get herbal notes.

Taste: my first taste is medium sweet with a low acidity. Elderflower and a smoky note with a lingering light astringency on the mid-palate. The finish is dry and has notes of elderflower with a touch of grapefruit bitterness.

Overall: If you call a beverage a cider it should taste like one, right? As for the Wild Elder, it has no apple aromas at all. You can taste only the elderflower cordial that was added. Perhaps a note of grapefruit, smokiness and the tannin give you a hint that the base for the beverage is or might be cider. Leaving this fact behind, I must admit that I enjoyed having the Wild Elder. It’s fruity, refreshing and the taste is intense and lingering. Those who like their beverages (intentionally I’m not using the word cider) on the sweeter side or simply those who like elderflower are gonna love it. Have it with cheese or simply on its own to protect yourself from the cold weather. 4.5/6 

Availability: from their online shop. In the Netherlands from CiderCider. In Germany exclusively from Cider Kultur.

Price: Hogan’s Wild Elder was a sample provided by Cider Kultur.

Brauhaus Gusswerk Papagena

Since Brauhaus Gusswerk is based in Salzburg, the city of Mozart, it’s not a surprise that the brewers named their cider after one of the characters of Mozart’s opera. Papagena is the love of Papageno, a bird catcher known from the most famous Mozart’s opera, the Magic Flute. The Papagena is an organic, vegan and sulphite-free cider made from apples grown in Mühlviertel. Previously, I sampled their Big Arlet.Company: Brauhaus Gusswerk
Place of Origin: Salzburg, Austria
Apples: organic apples grown in Mühlviertel
Sweetness as per label: unknown
ABV: 4.5%
Package type: 330ml clear bottle with crown cork
Recommended type of glass: wine glass or chalice glass
Note: 
organic, sulphite free, vegan

Appearance: pours a very cloudy pale golden and a white foam that only slowly dissipates. Lightly carbonated. Body is medium. Sediment in the bottle.

Aroma/Nose: smells of lightly sweet of fresh apple juice and fresh yellow apples, tart apples and a hint of yeast. Moderately strong scent.

Taste: it starts lightly sweet with a medium acidity of lemon. Taste of must and yeast with a light astringency. Finishes quickly with a refreshing taste of lemon flesh with a touch of bitterness.

Overall: I remember having this cider a few years back before becoming Cider Explorer. Back then, I thought that the Papagena was boring and tasted like an unmatured cider. Today, after evaluating nearly 300 ciders, I would consider the Papagena a pleasant and  complex enough drop. Not bad for a cider made by a brewer. Although, for my palate, it could be a bit less sweet and the taste more lingering and overall more exciting, but apart from that, it has a nice level of acidity and a good level of tannins. It’s a cider that can be appreciated by everyone. I would buy it again especially that it is widely available in Berlin. 4/6

Availability: broad in Germany e.g. from Ciderei and in Austria.

Price: The Papagena from Brauhaus Gusswerk was a sample provided by Ciderei

Kelterei Schmidt Josche’s Apfelwein

Joschua Schmidt a.k.a. Josche, a physics student from Giessen, Hesse, have always wanted to own a meadow orchard, so-called Streuobstwiese. And, he purchased one nearly 5 years ago and started distilling his own apple brandy for his own personal use. But, since for the production of apple brandy you need apple juice pressed from ca. 200kg apples, there were always some apples left. So what to do with the apple juice that cannot be put through distillation? Obviously, Apfelwein! And, this is how the story of Josche’s Apfelwein began. Both, Josche’s Apfelbrand (German for apple brandy) and Josche’s Apfelwein are now commercially available in Gießen, Wetzlar and Linden.
Company: Kelterei Schmidt
Place of Origin: Gießen, Hesse, Germany
Apples: locally sourced apples from meadow orchards in the Gießen area
ABV: 5.6%
Package type: 330ml clear bottle with crown cork
Recommended type of glass: wine glass or Gerriptes
Bottle No: 
1044

Appearance: pours a clear golden with no fizz and no carbonation. Body is medium.

Aroma/Nose: the nose is moderately strong with flavours of fresh yellow apples, quince,  mirabelle plum, must, but also notes of whisky and oak with a hint of alcohol.

Taste: it starts dry with a low to medium acidity of lemon. On the mid-palate notes of yellow apples, musty notes with a light astringency. Finishes dry and quickly with notes of yellow apples and mirabelle plums.

Overall: a typical Apfelwein from Hesse is usually very tart and has no depth. One could even say that it’s dull. In terms of Josche’s Apfelwein, I would say that it’s something between typical Apfelwein and a high-class wine like those I’ve tried from Gutshof Kraatz. You can tell only by looking at the bottle and the number of produced bottles that Josche’s Apfelwein is an artisan product. It has beautiful and clear notes on the nose and on the palate, but the taste finishes quickly. Too quickly. Let me put it this way, if I had to choose between a regular Apfelwein and Josche’s Apfelwein, I would definitely go with Josche’s drop as it’s very drinkable, refreshing, pleasant, without any off-putting notes and very food friendly. But it can be better. 4/6

Availability: currently available in Gießen, Wetzlar and Linden. Also, online through Josche’s facebook page. Interestingly, you can pay with cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin.

Price: Josche’s Apfelwein was provided by Josche himself.