As we entered Normandy at a point a little north and east of here, at Blangy-sur-Bresle, the bottom fell out. That's typical — it often rains in Normandy. When I lived here for a year 38 years ago (ouch!), that's what I learned. People told me: En Normandie, il ne pleut pas beaucoup... mais il pleut souvent. "It doesn't rain a lot, but it rains all the time." A fine drizzle is what you get on a typical Normandy day. In fact, Rouen is known as "the chamber pot of Normandy" — le pot de chambre de la Normandie. This afternoon, it rained cats and dogs just north of Neufchâtel, but the storm lasted only 30 or 40 minutes.
One reason we came to Neufchâtel is the cheese. And no, it's not the cream cheese product that goes by that name in America. It's more like a Camembert or Brie, but not exactly. It's a little saltier, a little crumblier or chalky inside when it's not very ripe, and it's delicious. It's a heart-shaped cheese that's made from cow's milk and has a crust like a Camembert. I can buy it in Saint-Aignan, either at the market on Saturdays, or in the supermarket. I've blogged about it before, and probably will again. Now I've tasted it on site.
Yesterday afternoon, when we arrived at the hotel where we're staying, right in the middle of town, I asked the man at the front desk if he thought it would be possible to make us a couple of small salads for dinner, with a side of the local cheese. He said the only way they could do that was to serve cheese as a croustillant — wrapped in a brick or phyllo dough and deep fried — on top of some salad greens. Neither CHM nor I wanted melted cheese. Melting takes all its good flavor away.
Since the hotel restaurant wasn't willing to accommodate us, I went out for a walk to see if another restaurant or café might have what we wanted. I found one pretty quickly. It's called Chez Jean-Pierre and it's definitely a down-home kind of place. Jean-Pierre greeted us. He was sitting at a table facing the front door when we walked in.
He looked at me and said: "Are you hungry?" Yes, I told him, we would like to have something to eat. "I've been sitting here since noon," he said, "and I'm still waiting for my food!" What a card. He laughed and then he got up and showed us to a table. Then I finally knew he really did run the place.
When we told him we wanted just cheese, he said he would bring us the platter. On it, there were three Neufchâel cheeses, a Camembert, some Bleu d'Auvergne, and several others. We said we'd just have some Neufchâtel. No, he said. I'll just leave the platter here and you eat what you want. What do you want to drink?
We had a pitcher of red wine and we proceeded to do a serious Neufchâtel dégustation. But the best thing is that he told us where he buys his Neufchâtel cheese. He gets it from a farmer out on the west side of town, across the street from the SuperU supermarket. "Not in the supermarket," he was very careful to explain, "but at the farm across the road. The farmer's name is Philippe Monnier, and he sells retail."
So that's where we are going tomorrow morning before we leave Neufchâtel and the Pays de Bray. And we'll take some good cheese back to Paris and Saint-Aignan.