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!