Food and Wine in Cider Country

Last weekend I hosted a food and wine, and cider, weekend in Brittany, north western France.

It’s an area of France which is too northerly to grow the grape and, like the neighbouring region of Normandy, it is famous for it’s apple orchards, hence the prevalence of cider ... or Cidre if you prefer.

Twelve people gathered around our table for this two day experience of eating and drinking, tasting mostly local produce — and what wasn’t totally local was at least French (if you want to drink wine from Bordeaux in Brittany, you have to make exceptions). The diners gathered from far and wide, with four nationalities represented — so very new experiences for some, but enjoyed by all.

The Breton Cidre/Cider

The focus here as I write though, is the Cidre de Bretagne. I managed to fit a couple of bottles in the suitcase on the way home which were the remaining supplies from the weekend — there are certain advantages to overstocks — so your correspondent is self-lubricating as he writes.

Le Lamballais, Cidre Bio Brut (below), is produced, using organically farmed apples by a very small family producer, Famille Benoit, near the town of Lamballe.

French ciders produced are bound by strict regulation, in the same way as in the wine producing regions of France. The results show that the rules make good sense — the ciders are both unique and fabulous.

They are made from apple varieties which are (mostly) all local: varieties like, Domaine, Frequin Rouge, Mettais, Moulin à Vent, Bedan, Binet Rouge, Bisquet, Noël des Champs, Rambault … and that list does go on (and on). Having listed all those varieties, a local would just shrug Gallicly and tell you … Pommes à Cidre!

The characteristic, though, all the apple varities have in common, from bitter to sweet in taste, is the size of the actual apple. They are very small, and this is key, not coincidental: the ratio of skin to flesh is much greater than varieties grown in other cider-making regions of the world, and this gives a much greater intensity and depth of flavour, producing very deep golden coloured cider, in which you really can taste the apple.

This cider I have in hand is only sold very locally to where it’s produced, but there is high quality cider production throughout the region. So if you are visiting this spectacular beautiful part if the world, simply drink whatever is local to you.

The Breton food

The best known cuisine in the Brittany region would be fantastic fresh fish and seafood, crêpes and the galette. The crêpes being sweet and the galette being savoury, both resembling what you might prosaically describe as pancake. We served Galette Saucisse (local Pork Sausage) to the weekend guests accompanied with a cup of the afore mentioned cider, always served in a cup (une bolée). It would be fair to say that this is ‘merely’ simple local food, — but the combination of Galette Saucissse and the local Cider is experience that must be crossed off the check-list of life.

The weekend progressed with an oyster tasting, 5 different varieties, all provided by local oyster grower Nicolas Nonnet, who is the second generation in his families business, farming the Oysters in Fresnaye Bay.

The perfect wine for oysters, to my mind, is Muscadet sur Lié de Serve et Maine. As if made for oysters, it’s lean, crisp, dry, neutral, grapey, . You may say neutral and grapey are not qualities you’re not looking for, but the combination of the Muscadet with taste of the sea in the Oyster is sublime.

The weekend carried on in the same vein, with Cote de Boeuf cooked on the open fire, paired with a red Burgundy Pommard Les Arvelets 1er Cru 2011, and a large selection of French Cheeses from around the country paired with wine a red Bordeaux, Château Beaumont, Haut-Medoc 2004. The ’04 may not be a sexy vintage, but it was showing rather well that night.

I will be hosting more food and wine tasting weekends later in the year, so please contact me ( richlfoxuk at yahoo dot com) if you would like more details.