Normandy is known for its verdant landscapes, historic beaches, and impressive medieval monuments. However, for food lovers around the world, Normandy conjures another image: that of a true cheese paradise. Indeed, this fertile region, with its mild and humid climate and lush pastures, is the cradle of some of the most famous and beloved cheeses in France.
For centuries, cheese making has been an essential component of Normandy’s culture and economy. It is inseparable from the region’s identity, just like the apples used for producing cider and Calvados. Normandy cheese, with its variety of textures and flavors, from the creamy softness of Camembert to the power of Livarot, is an authentic expression of Normandy’s terroir.
In this article, we will explore the world of Normandy cheeses, going through the history and characteristics of each cheese, visiting local cheese dairies to understand their production process, and discovering the tradition of tasting cheese with cider. Prepare for a savory journey through Normandy, the land of cheeses par excellence.
Iconic Cheeses of Normandy
Normandy is renowned for its rich and varied cheeses, each with its own history, character, and tasting traditions.
Among this diversity, four cheeses particularly stand out: Camembert de Normandie, Livarot, Pont-l’Évêque, and Neufchâtel. These cheeses all bear a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), which ensures that they are made using traditional methods and in specific regions of Normandy.
The Camembert de Normandie, often considered the king of Norman cheeses, is famous for its white bloomy rind and creamy, runny heart. This cheese, which takes its name from the village of Camembert, has become a symbol of French gastronomy.
The Livarot, nicknamed ‘the colonel’ due to the five reed strips that surround it, is renowned for its strong aroma and pronounced flavor. It is produced in the Pays d’Auge, a region of Normandy known for its quality dairy products.
The Pont-l’Évêque is one of the oldest cheeses of Normandy. Its orange-yellow crust envelops a supple and creamy paste, which gives off aromas of cream and fresh butter. Its name comes from the small town of Pont-l’Évêque, where it has been produced since the Middle Ages.
Finally, the Neufchâtel is unique for its heart shape, although it can also be found in brick or cylinder shapes. Its white and crumbly paste offers an interesting contrast with its bloomy rind, and its taste can vary from sweet and slightly salty to strongly mushroomy.
These cheeses are just the tip of the iceberg of Norman cheese culture. Each cheese tells a story, reflects a terroir, and offers a unique taste experience.
Visiting Local Cheese Dairies in Normandy
For those who wish to go beyond simple tasting and understand the art of cheese making, a visit to a local cheese dairy is a must during a stay in Normandy.
These cheese dairies, which range from small family farms to large industrial facilities, offer a precious opportunity to closely observe the cheese-making process, from cow breeding to cheese maturing.
The Durand Cheese Dairy in Camembert is an excellent starting point. This family-owned artisanal cheese dairy produces one of the last raw milk Camembert de Normandie.
Visitors can discover the traditional process of making Camembert, which involves hand ladling and aging for several weeks in temperature-controlled cellars.
Fromagerie E. Graindorge
If you are a fan of Livarot and Pont-l’Évêque, a visit to the Fromagerie E. Graindorge in Livarot is highly recommended.
This cheese dairy, which has been in existence for more than a century, offers an interactive and educational tour that allows visitors to follow the cheese making process through windows overlooking the production workshops.
The Fromagerie Gillot, established in 1912, is a traditional Normandy cheese dairy, famous for its raw milk Camembert de Normandie. It follows artisanal methods passed down from generation to generation to produce this cheese.
The visit often ends with a tasting of their Camembert, allowing you to appreciate its creamy texture and delicate flavors. Before planning your visit, check opening hours and availability of guided tours.
Fromagerie Isigny Sainte Mère
La Fromagerie Isigny Sainte-Mère is a renowned institution in Normandy. Founded in 1880, it is known for the production of traditional Norman cheeses, including Camembert, Pont-l’Évêque, and Livarot.
Adhering to artisanal production methods, the cheese dairy creates cheeses that reflect the unique terroir of Normandy. The milk used in the production of the cheeses comes exclusively from Norman cows, guaranteeing the authenticity and quality of the products.
Visiting the Isigny Sainte-Mère Cheese Dairy is an enriching experience. Visitors can follow the cheese-making process, from milking the cows to maturation, while learning about the history and cheese tradition of the region. The visit usually culminates with a tasting of freshly produced cheeses, allowing visitors to savor the richness and complexity of the flavors of Norman cheeses.
For those curious to discover Neufchâtel, the Monnier Cheese Dairy in Neufchâtel-en-Bray offers guided tours that include a demonstration of the cheese-making process and a tasting of fresh Neufchâtel.
These cheese dairy visits are not only educational, but they also offer a unique opportunity to meet passionate cheesemakers, learn more about the history and culture of cheese in Normandy, and, of course, taste fresh cheese directly at the source.
Normandy, with its rich cheese tradition, offers a true celebration of flavors for cheese lovers. Whether you are drawn to the creamy Camembert, robust Livarot, mild Pont-l’Évêque, or heart-shaped Neufchâtel, each Norman cheese invites you to a unique gastronomic experience.
But the discovery of Norman cheeses does not stop at tasting. It also invites an immersion into the region’s craftsmanship, culture, and history. By visiting local cheese dairies, learning about the cheese-making process, pairing cheeses with traditional cider, and incorporating them into local cuisine, you can deepen your appreciation of Norman cheeses and discover the vital role they play in Normandy’s gastronomic heritage.
So, the next time you get the chance to savor a piece of Norman cheese, take a moment to appreciate not only its flavor, but also the history, craftsmanship, and passion that are woven into it.