By Debbie Rogers: I spent a week touring Normandy, Brittany and finally Paris on a press trip to find out more about cream and how it’s used in Patisserie. Here’s the first instalment of my trip where I spent a few days in Normandy.
Normandy is particularly famous for its dairy products, butter, milk, cream and cheese and cream was the focus of the trip that I was on along with some other journalists from the Middle East. In just over a week we were in France to visit Normandy, Brittany and finally Paris to learn about how cream is used in cooking and baking, or should I say patisserie.
Our trip starts in Paris and we quickly drive to Normandy to start learning all about the dairy business. This is where the story starts for the production of good cream.
Normandy : Premier cru laitier de France (the finest milk-producing area in France).
It’s a little after 8 am and we are at a small family owned farm in Normandy. The mist swirls over the fields and the grey clouds above mean there’s a chance it could rain. Donning protective footwear, we are taken in a small group into the milking parlour to see the cows being milked. It’s calm and peaceful and all we can hear is the sounds of the machines and the radio playing in the background. We’re told the radio helps soothe the cows, and it seems to be working. Two workers are setting up the equipment to milk the cows and go about their job quietly and efficiently. As for the cows, they are settled and content and going through their usual daily routine.
Why is the milk so good?
The cows graze on fresh grass, herbs and flowers so it’s as close to nature as it can be. The milk comes from three main breeds of cows all of whom produce high protein milk with a high casein content. High casein content produces excellent cheese. As for the case, they graze on fresh high quality grass year-round and spend at least two hundred and twenty days outside grazing on fresh pasture.
Good cream can only be made using high quality milk and the process starts in many family owned farms across the region like the one that we visited. The farms are part of the Isigny Ste Mère Dairy co-operative which was formed in the 1930’s. Today the co-operative covers 450+ farmers and employs 700+ employees and processes 215 million litres of milk every year.
The role of the Co-operative
Milk produced at the small farms is transferred to the Isigny Ste Mère production facility where after rigorous quality checks etc, it is transformed into butter, cream, AOC* cheese, and milk powder. Each item of produce is produced and marketed under the established Isigny Ste Mère brand and by processing the milk into other products, value is added to the product which is then marketed and exported across the world. You’ll recognise the products, they are on sale here in Dubai.
One of the major roles played by the Co-operative was the successful application for the AOC standard. AOC stands for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (translation: Controlled Name of Origin). AOC is a designation of process and provenance that is used in France. Essentially AOC covers a process or method of production, rather than a level of quality. The program is designed to ensure that products with a long history and a strong sense of terroir can maintain their identity in the marketplace. The AOC designation covers many different food groups – wine, oils, spices and cheese to name a few. To have the right to use the AOC symbol a product must be produced in the agreed area, have an established reputation and have successfully completed the approval procedure.
Getting There from The Middle East: Fly to Paris then either drive or take a train (45 mins to 3 hours depending on destination) to various stations in Normandy (details in the link here).
Time Difference: 2 or 3 hours behind Dubai depending on British Summer Time
The Weather: Varies from a minimum of 1C in winter to 23C in summer. It rains a lot, so take some waterproof clothing and/or an umbrella.
Normandy Food Festivals
Normandy – Haute-cuisine heaven for food lovers
Located just a two-hour drive from central Paris is the province of Normandy. It’s an area rich in history and has 600 km of coastline with an abundance of fresh seafood. The lush green countryside makes it perfect grazing for dairy herds, and there are plenty of apple orchards. Normandy is a perfect holiday hideaway for food lovers.
There’s gorgeous fresh seafood, local duck, veal and salt marsh lamb as well as beautiful local cheeses, apples and of course apple products such as apple cider, Calvados etc. Most restaurants in Normandy use locally sourced products and is haute-cuisine heaven for food lovers and visitors seeking authentic culinary experiences.
There are plenty of festivals spread across the year. They typically fall into 4 categories:
- Apple & Cider
- Local Produce & Traditions – everything from black pudding to snails!
The tourism authority lists over seventy different type of experiences from snails, cheese, chocolate, seafood, cider and so much more. There are museum tours, trips to farms and tastings. There’s certainly plenty to keep a foodie busy on a trip. Details here : >>Food & Drink Experiences
Check out the various markets where there’s bound to be plenty of local produce. Note: ‘Rise and Shine’ – markets take place in the morning and are usually wrapped up by lunch time so don’t be late!
Not sure where to go or what to see? The tourism authority has details of routes called Circuits which highlight areas to visit and activities based on your preferences. Of interest to food lovers are:
- The ivory and spice trail (La route de l’Ivoire et des épices)
- The fruit trail (La route des fruits)
- The Camembert trail (La Route du Camembert)
- The cider trail (La Route du Cidre)
- The mill trail (La Route des Moulins)
- The tradition trail (La Route des Traditions)
Normandy Farm experiences
We were privileged to visit a working farm which is not open to the public, however if you want to have a farm experience in Normandy there are some working dairy farms which offer accommodation.
An organic family owned organic dairy farm close to the beach and a national park where you can see the cows being milked
Stay in a typical Bessin house on a farm producing dairy, meat and cereals. In the immediate vicinity of the Normandy landing beaches.
Stay on this family owned working dairy farm in a former cheese house (now a family gite) surrounded by green Norman meadows.
DINING IN FRANCE
- Menus in France are always displayed outside the restaurant, so you can decide in advance if the price, style and food available are what you want.
- There is no added tax on top of the food costs and no obligation to tip.
- Set menus, are very common and are often a great way to try some new dishes, although the selection may be limited. They typically involve a several courses. Not fancying the set menu? You can usually order A La Carte.
- Some restaurants also offer ‘Plat du jour’ – dish of the day.
- Dégustation Menus are quite common. This menu is chosen by the chef to show off his/her expertise. Usually this consists of many small plates, and there’s no choice of menu.
- Wine is a common part of the menu – usually with a good selection of house wine which you can order by the glass – (by the pichet which is 125ml) we had some amazing apple cider as well.
- Fine dining is quite often cheaper at lunch rather than dinner,
- Restaurants often close mid afternoon to prepare for the evening meal.
- Whilst we would thinking nothing of it in Dubai, It is not usual to ask for a “doggy bag” for leftovers.
- Most places were not overly helpful in making changes to menu selections, and vegetarian food choices tended not to be on the menu and the resulting dish was very unimaginative.
- Finally, if you don’t recognize an ingredient from the menu, ask for a translation to avoid you tucking into something unexpected – in hindsight that might just have been me! I accidentally ordered Intestines which entertained everyone at the table!
All information gathered and researched as part of a Cream of Europe Press Trip. More details on Cream, it’s uses along with recipes etc at www.creamofeurope.com. Images by Debbie Rogers with a few image free ones from Pixabay.]