22 July 2010

In Normandy, it's the cheese

Reporting today from the charming town of Neufchâtel-en-Bray, in Upper Normandy. We drove in from Picardy today, on our way to Rouen. Rouen is the unofficial capital of Normandy, and is a big city. Neufchâtel is not a big city.

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.

The brasserie Chez Jean-Pierre in Neufchâtel-en-Bray

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.

Chez Jean-Pierre is not a chichi 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.


  1. Good post. Hope you managed to get your cheese from the farmer. Diane

  2. If you are staying at the hotel I think you mean, called le Cheval Blanc, I think, we had a fantastic lunch there one day. It was huge and I was starving and ate the lot. Miam miam. Come to think of it, it might have even included choucroute!

    I'm surprised to hear they weren't very obliging with you - perhaps it is a different hotel after all.

  3. I like Neufchatel. This isn't a hint you realise, but if you're worrying about what I might like as a present....

  4. Hi Ken !

    /// Rouen is the unofficial capital of Normandy, and is a big city///

    (grin) This has been a real bone of contention in Amerloque's village, which is across the Seine and thus is in "Basse-Normandie", while Rouen is in "Haute-Normandie". Caen, the capital of Basse-Normandie, is the capital of Normandy ! (wide grin)

    There are projects afoot to merge the two Normandys into one. For over twenty years that project has stalled, since the politicos and inhabitants cannot agree on which city - Rouen or Caen – should be the 'ville préfecture' of the 'reunified Normandy'.

    Keep strong and travel safely !


  5. Normandy is one region of France that I have not visited, so I'm enjoying hearing about your trip.

    I'm sure the local farmer will have some great cheese.

  6. Your trip thus far has been great. Can't wait to read more.

  7. Susan, no, the hotel in Neufchâtel was not the Cheval Blanc but Les Airelles, a Logis de France.

    Simon, if there's any left. I was surprised at the price: one euro per cheese. I'll take pictures of them.

    Everybody... we're back in Paris now. Exhausted but happy that it all went so well.

  8. I am sure you made Jennifer (Chez Loulou) happy today. Your trip sounds so lovely!

  9. WOW! what a great experience! I can't wait to hear about your visit. Share every detail... Yay!

  10. Hi

    May i venture to stress that the man who greeted you is not Jean-Pierre, the late former owner and an excellent friend of mine but Dominique .... also an excellent friend of mine .... when I feel a little down i have a cuppa and a chat with him and his wife Edith and all seems better for a short while... and I do sometimes help him out with his Anglosaxon patrons .... great fun ....


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