Normandy trip report (Pays d'Auge/Orne)
Well, not exactly a full-blown report - just a quick run-down of a couple of places we tried over the Easter weekend. Sadly, as much as we love this area, we still haven't been able to find a restaurant worth going to twice. Luckily, however, it's paradise for picknickers (even in below-freezing weather!).
Auberge du Haut du Crouttes (Crouttes - about 12 km south of Livarot)
Warm welcome on a freezing night, but the food was nothing to write home about. You get two choices for starters and mains, then move on to cheese and dessert. Starters: bland terrine maison with a rather pasty consistency and a very nice tarte Crouttesienne (eggs, onion, tomato, Livarot and Camembert). Mains: poulet Marie Harel (sauced with cider, creme fraiche and Camembert) and duck with apples. Both horrendously overcooked. Okay cheeses, and decent desserts -- the teurgoule (Norman rice pudding) was quite nice. With a bottle of cider and a couple of aperitifs, the bill came to 75 euros for two.
Auberge la Levrette (St-Julien-le-Faucon)
We'd been here last year and were casting about for a place to eat Easter lunch. Serviceable, and amusing for its old-guard atmosphere (lovely half-timbered room with a massive fireplace, and a clientele whose average age this weekend had to have been well north of 70). Chose pommeau as aperitifs, then went for the Menu "Auberge" -- 20 euros for three courses. Starters: croustillant de chevre chaud (filo pastry stuffed with warm goat's cheese) and salade de gesiers confit and jambon cru de pays -- okay, nothing special, except for the fact that an entire flock of chickens must have given up their gizzards for my plate. Mains: steak with Camembert sauce and filet mignon de porc with cider and creme fraiche. Both accompanied by dry-as-dust gratin and a pleasant enough mix of courgettes, tomatoes and peppers. I don't care for meat and cheese together, but the pork was certainly tasty. Finished off with a lovely cheese selection (they generally have 7-8 on offer). With a bottle of cider, paid less than 60 euros for two.
Other foodie notes:
Domaine de la Galotiere (Crouttes)
This is actually the reason we came this weekend -- our stocks of cider, poire and Calvados had been depleted, and this small farm's stuff is extraordinary. Well worth seeking out if you're in the area. The regular AOC cider is lovely, but make sure you get the "Prestige" poire -- it's my go-to beverage with spicy Thai food. The 25-year-old Calva, for those who like that sort of thing, is sleek and elegant.
Clos La Bicquetiere (Tortisambert)
This is the chambre d'hotes we stayed at -- worth putting in a Chowhound report because they also make organic goat's cheese. They don't do any markets, so you can only buy their cheeses at the farm. Dominique and Mylene do mostly fresh (unaged) cheeses, but if you push for something with a bit of age on it, the results are really tasty. And the goats themselves -- well, we've completely lost our hearts to them. I may have to adopt Number 208.
St-Pierre-sur-Dives, Monday morning market
This small town felt like a booming metropolis on Easter Monday, and there's lots of good stuff available. High notes included the olive seller (think he's the only one), where we got Picholine olives flavoured with fennel and another mix flavoured with thyme, sarriette, lemon and garlic; "Monsieur Moustache" (that's really the name on the stand) and his excellent saucisson (we got myrtille, noisette, olive and tomme de chevre); Monsieur Guy Guy and his boudin flavoured with Calvados
La Houssaye dairy (Boissey)
La Houssaye remains, to my mind, one of the best producers of Pont L'Eveque and Livarot. You can buy the cheeses at the dairy, or pick them up at a couple of stands at the St-Pierre-sur-Dives market.
Fromagerie Graindorge (Livarot)
Pleasantly surprised here -- I'd written this place off as an industrial producer of Pont-L-Eveque, Livarot and Pave d'Auge, but found out this time around that they also produce a Camembert on their label that's actually made by a smaller farmer's cooperative. They've got two different "models" -- the blue label is pretty much mass-market and not worth the effort, but the natural-wood box with no paper label is referred to as the Affineur Selection, and it is DELECTABLE.
Thanks so much for this great posting. My boyfriend and I head there in a little over a week and this will really help. I do have a question though. Did you ever come across the camembert of Monsieur Durand? I'd very much like to try his cheese while there and can't seem to find anywhere to buy it.
Oh, I hope you have better weather than we did! M. Durand's Camembert appeared on the cheese plate at the Auberge du Haut du Crouttes, together with a little flyer about his farm. The best way to get his cheese is to go directly to him -- he sells "sur place" and is open to receive visitors every day except Sunday. The farm (La Herroniere) is close to the village of Camembert, and you can get more specific directions from the Maison du Camembert (hard to miss -- it's the biggest building in the village, right across from the church).
There will be a tradeoff, though -- the fact that he uses milk only from his own herd means that at this time of year (late winter, really, when the cows are being fed on hay and not yet put out to graze full time), the cheese isn't as good as it will be later in the year. But give it a shot and see what you think!