Rick Steves says, “Normandy is known as the land of the four C’s: Calvados, Camembert, cider and crème,” and every one of our dinners included a few if not all of these specialties. I’m beginning to think there is something to be said for the French custom of serving a cheese course between the entrée and dessert. Unfortunately, you can’t stay trim eating a four-course meal nightly unless you also cycle daily.
Our cycling in Normandy made us ravenous, and we easily rose to the challenge of eating four delicious courses, though we had a few fellow travelers who were more restrained. I love lamb and veal, and I enjoyed both several times on this trip. The seafood was another treat, especially the shellfish. Two evenings I had huge platters of shellfish, once as an entrée and once as an appetizer. Whelks were included in both platters, and I tried them for the first and last time. There’s just something not very appetizing about their rubbery texture and bland taste—not to mention hearing the “foot” pop out of the shell-- but I gave them my best shot. On Wikipedia, I found them compared to conch, which I’ve always liked, perhaps because I’ve eaten it fried or marinated and didn’t have to pull it out of the shell myself.
We visited Cara Meuh, a dairy farm whose specialty is caramel candy and sauces. We watched a video on the process from the cow to the vats to the sales room and then had a tasting. It was difficult to choose from chocolate, hazelnut or plain caramel, but we were up to that challenge too and chose a jar to carry home. This colorful photo of the Cara Meuh vache et cyclists is one of my favorites.
I only wish we could have also carried home some of the cheeses and crème desserts. Every picnic lunch and every dinner was an opportunity to try a selection of cheeses. Picture the server bringing around a platter of cheeses at dinner and asking you to select one or several to try--and then bringing out the dessert menu. Dessert might be a crepe with ice cream or a raspberry cream cheese parfait, but whatever it was, you could always count on it being delicious.
We cycled up a long gravel driveway one day to visit Vergers de Romilly, where Cidre, Pommeau, Calvados and apple juice are produced. There we had another tasting and purchased a bottle of Pommeau. One evening, we were served Pommeau as an aperitif and Calvados to top off the meal. I sipped the Calvados and quickly decided it was too strong for my taste, but the Pommeau, made by mixing two thirds apple juice to one third Calvados, was more palatable. One of my travel buddies, who shall remain nameless, was challenged to shoot a glass of Calvados that same night, and she stood up and tossed it back. She’s up for most challenges, so it’s fortunate for her that no one challenged her to do every mile of the trip.
For me, the biggest challenge, beyond the headwinds and hills, was returning to the states and reminding my hungry self that I was no longer burning enough calories to eat four course dinners with cheese and dessert. Mon DIeu, I’ve made myself hungry all over again. Perhaps planning another vacation to France will make me think of the countryside and cycling instead of crème and camembert. It’s certainly worth a try.