Any trip to Normandy is bound to leave an impression. Picturesque villages abound, a stunning coast with dramatic cliffs looms large, and orchards upon orchards of apples tempt locals and visitors alike with the promises of tarte tatin, Cidre de Normandie and, of course, Calvados. Delightful for sure, but to those of us who live and breathe fromage, the true appeal is a countryside of pastures dotted with the iconic, brown-and-white speckled Vache Normande cattle. This is cow country, ‘The Land of Cream’, with over 1,000 years of dairying history stretching back to monastic orders in the Middle Ages. Here lie delights of fresh cream, cultured butter, crème fraiche, the ancient, nearly holy quartet of Camembert de Normandie, Livarot, Pont-l’Évêque, and Neufchâtel, and regional cousins like Pavé d’Auge and Carré de Bray.
These are a delight year-round, but despite the tendency of many to gravitate towards these pungent softies in the winter, they are frequently at their best around mid-to-late summer. Norman cheesemakers specialise in young cheese, aged only a month in most cases, which means the milk is a fairly immediate taste of its origin.
During the summer, the cows will graze upon the lush, permanent grasslands of both Haute and Basse-Normandie, and the cheese will acquire a slight golden hue in its colour – the mark of grass-fed summer milk! Despite many attempts the world over, nothing quite captures the complexity of a summer pasture, raw milk, real-deal Norman cheese. And from my experience, it will taste even better while sitting on a breezy coastal bluff overlooking the English Channel, sipping on a dry cider, with a crusty loaf of sourdough at the ready.
About the author
Nick Bayne is a cheese specialist for The Fine Cheese Co., 2015 Champion of the Cheesemonger Invitational, and two-time competitor in the Concours Mondial de Meilleur Fromager. He is responsible for sourcing and selecting artisan European cheeses to bring to the United Kingdom