For me, a great key to understanding what makes Normandy’s dairy products (think Camembert, Pont l’Evêque, Livarot, cream, butter) so exceptional is seeing the context in which they are produced. How do their cheeses taste so lush and rich? I’m convinced that it’s at least partly because of the lifestyle. Things just happen differently here than at home in fast-paced San Francisco. The land and the people seem strongly connected, both in proximity, and in spirit. People understand and incorporate seasonality into their kitchen; farms abound; Normande cows quietly contemplate their existence in the fields; the weather is a significant topic of conversation. Food producers use methods that have been passed down through several generations. Simple pleasures such as watching a farm dog bounding through tall stalks of wheat, tongue out, eyes roving, are everywhere.
More than anywhere else, M. Cheesemonger’s hometown is an example of the inescapable joining of the past and the present. This is a town that carries its history with it into the future. Only a few meters from M. Cheesemonger’s house lie the ruins of the beautiful 16th century Eglise St. Jean, destroyed in World War II. Today, people walk their dogs along the empty walls and hold barbecues during local festivals. One day, I went to the weekly market in search of local honey, I met an apiculteur, M. Pimbert Jacky, who, upon learning that I was American, recounted the history of his father and village during World War II. His father, a member of the French resistance, sheltered Allied troops and fugitives in the family barn. He extended his heartfelt gratitude toward the United States, reminding me that there is much respect for all that the U.S. did for France during the war. Today, the honey he sells comes from that same family property, probably not so far from the family barn full of memories.
Speaking of the past, we had to pay some homage to M. Cheesemonger’s Breton heritage by having galettes, or savory buckwheat crêpes, brought all the way from Brittany. They were pan-fried to a light crisp in demi-sel butter, stuffed with ham, sautéed mushrooms, shredded emmenthal cheese, and a fried egg. Old school style with cidre brut!
For those of you in a position to find M. Jacky and his delicious honey, pain d’épices, royal jelly, and honey-sweetened candies, his business is called Rucher de St. Jouin. He sells at markets around Normandy and the Loire, but his home base is at 3 & 5, Place St. Jouin, 37120, Faye-la-Vineuse, France.
You don’t have to be in France to enjoy simple pleasures, luckily. There’s always something to love about every moment. When it comes to food, making the time to really enjoy my meals counts almost as much as having a fridge full of fresh, delicious things to eat!