Exploring Normandy Part 2: Cheese, Cider, and Postcard Villages

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Church in Victot-Pontfol–exploring the cider route.

The cool, but sunny weather of last week has given way to rain this morning.  I don’t mind too much, because rainy days are perfect for snuggling up with my laptop and Bon Iver and catching up on my blogging.  Also, we had boeuf bourguignon with braised spice cabbage for lunch, which is the perfect rainy fall day meal!  Oh my tastebuds are happy.

So, backing up to last Saturday. The best thing about having a rental car was the freedom of exploring rural Normandy (or Normandie) at my leisure (well, more or less, as much leisure as I could pack into 48 hours).

Saturday, Sophie decided she wanted to have a down day, so I was on my own.  I was a bit nervous about doing both the navigating and driving, but the great thing about country roads is you can pull off to the side and look at maps and directions when you need to.  Also, cars can turn around, which is oh so handy!

Saturday dawned cold clear morning, so a mist was just rising off the fields as I set off, making for some gorgeous, eerie type photos.  By afternoon, it warmed to the point of being comfortable in long sleeves and sans jacket, with skies that were as clear and blue as a mountain lake.

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The fog just lifting on a clear and chilly autumn morning.

After a couple detours down some tiny country roads, I first stopped in the small cheese making village of Livarot, about a 30 minute drive from where I’m staying.  It was a sleepy little village on a Saturday morning–pretty far off the main tourist drag, and not many shops were open, but  I wasn’t interested in shopping; I was there to visit the E. Graindorge cheese factory, La Village Fromargerie.

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Mmm…Normandy is yummy.

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Thanks for the cheese, cows!

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Aging camembert in the cellars of La Village Fromargerie.

A self guided tour through the factory and the museum was delightful with displays and short video clips explaining the history of the company and the cheese production process the region.  As visitors progress through the factory, they pass through the aging cellars and packaging rooms from where the cheese is then sent for distribution.  The free tour was well worth the time, and concluded with the sampling of various cheese (can’t go wrong with free samples) and local products in the gift shop.  I picked up some camembert and apple cider (juice) for my picnic lunch.

From Livarot, it was about 30 minutes north to the village of Cambremer, a pretty little town right on the cider route–a 25 mile marked tour through the Pays d’Auge region of Normandy.  The cider route is a perfect way to experience the culture and culinary arts of Normandy.  While the D-Day sights give an important insight into history, this is rural life in Normandy today.  Stopping at various estates and in the local villages, you can sample cider, calvados, and other apple products, and tour the distilleries and orchards that make this part of France so distinctive.

I had delightful time at the Dupont estate, getting a private tour of the distillery and the Calvados and cider aging cellars.  Calvados is aged apple brandy, and if I understood correctly, many of the barrels are aged for as many as 30 or more years!  You have to have a lot of patience and apples to run an operation like that!  My tour concluded with a sample of their delicious fresh apple cider (non-alcoholic for me, thank you) and I purchased a bottle of sparkling cider to take with me.  I just broke into it a couple nights ago.  It is THE BEST sparkling cider I have ever had.  Sorry, Martinelli’s.

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Calvados aging barrels at the Dupont estate.  If I understood correctly, these particular barrels will age for about 30 years.

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Touring the Dupont estate.

My final stop for the day was the popular village of Beuron en Auge, widely considered one of the most beautiful villages in all of Normandy.  It’s tiny–you can walk from one end to the other in less than 10 minutes– and full of half timbered buildings, antique shops, cider purveyors, and small boutiques to delight tourists.

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Delightful half timbered home in the postcard town of Beuvron-en-Auge.

While it can be crowded during the summer, this weekend at the end of September was pleasantly tranquil, giving me plenty of time to enjoy my picnic of all local foods: cider, camembert, and a fresh baguette–and then go exploring.

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Dining as the locals do. The perfect picnic.

That, in a word, was my day.  Exploring at its purest.  Driving through France, in my adorable rental car, looking at a map but just turning down whatever road intrigued me.  Meeting local people, trying the local food that they were so proud of, and enjoying the autumn sunshine.  Perfect days are so rare, and this one was definitely one to treasure.

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