France is famous for its wine. It has long been a standard against which other wines are compared (I highly recommend watching Bottle Shock if you haven’t already seen it). So when we began planning our trip to the Normandy region, I was surprised to see that the French in the Normandy region prefer to cheers with a glass of cider instead of wine.
I like to consider myself a bit of a cider connoisseur. While most college-aged kids were developing a sophisticated palate for Bud Light and those other award-winning beers that poor college kids and frat boys would buy, I was instead exploring the world of cider.
A little more research and I discovered that there is actually a Cider Route (Route du Cidre) in the Normandy region, which is a 40km circular route through the Pays d’Auge countryside. Similar to wine tasting, you can stop at the producers to taste their various ciders, pommeau, or calvados. And, if you want to turn it into an educational experience and learn a little about the cider, pommeau, or calvados making process, some of the producers offer tours although the English tour options are limited.
First stop was Pierre Huet. Pierre Huet was offering a tour in English when we arrived, so we decided to join in. While it’s always interesting to hear about the history of the companies, I think Jared and I have both come to the conclusion that one wine/champagne/cider tour is much the same as any other. If you haven’t done one, then definitely have at it. Jared and I were not familiar with pommeau or calvados so it was great to actually hear how you go from an apple to apple brandy. After our brief tour, we headed back to the main building for the big finale: the tastings. As part of our tour fee, you get to taste quite a few of their offerings. First up were the ciders, and as you see above there are three types of ciders that they produce . We both got a little taster of both the brut apple cider and the demi-sec pear cider. I favored the pear cider (blame it on the sweet tooth) while Jared preferred the brut (less sweet). But both were quite tasty. Next up was pommeau. Pommeau is essentially a mix of calvados and pure apple juice, and is typically drank as an aperitif. It was, well, I think my tiny taster is all I think I’ll ever feel the need to drink.
And last, we got to try two vintages of calvados (apple brandy) – one was aged 8 years and one was aged 15 years. Much like the pommeau, I am not sure I’d be able to sip this without grimacing. However, I have seen quite a few tasty cocktails where calvados is the star like these, which have me wishing we’d picked up a bottle or two. Alas, we grabbed a few bottles of cider and then moved on to the next place: Domaine Dupont.Domaine Dupont is on some truly beautiful grounds (as the entry above surely shows). Through the windows of the tasting room you can see the seemingly endless rows of apple trees. True artisan cider. And so of course, I so desperately wanted to love their cider. Ultimately Jared and I agreed that the earthiness of the ciders was just a bit too much for us. I do appreciate that they are trying to do something a little different, but I don’t like funk with my cider (just my lambics and guezes thank you very much). They do have quite the impressive selection of calvados though.It was late in the afternoon, but we made one final stop at Manoir de Grandouet. This one may have been my favorite (my 12 bottles purchased being no indication…). We pulled off the road towards some nondescript buildings. Lucky for us that another person was just loading up their cider haul, otherwise we may have assumed that it was closed it was so quiet and peaceful. The woman running the tastings was incredibly helpful and was willing to give us as many tasters as we wanted. Ultimately, we ended up trying 5 different ciders here – all solid – and actually had a tough time figuring out which ones to buy because we liked them all so much. Lucky for us, cider tasting is a much cheaper affair compared to wine tasting: the typical 75ml cider costs just about EUR 3.You know what else the region is well-known for? Camembert. If you have a little more time and want do a real gastronomy tour of the Pays d’Auge region plan to make a stop in Camembert to see how this cheese is made. While you’re there, grab a few goodies to pair with your new ciders.