Friday, 17 July 2015

Tour de France Food and Drink Stages 4 to 9

So, leaving the Low Countries behind, the Tour headed into the heartland of French cycling: Brittany.  On the way it passed through Normandy as well, presenting a few key characteristic culinary highlights.  I looked at some Belgian fare for Stage 4 but the stage actually crossed the border and finished in France.  To accompany my second helping of stoofvleesas I had drunk all my Leffe the night before, I had a pint of Landship beer, as what could be more appropriate for a finish ending in Cambrai?  This was produced by the Dorset Brewing Company for the Bovington Tank Museum and matched the stew perfectly.

Anyway, Normandy means Camembert.  Unlike medieval Gouda, which I looked at last time, Camembert has a rather more recent history.  Traditionally being first made in 1791 by Marie Havel, who worked at the Manor of Beaumoncel and learned the secret of soft cheese with an edible rind from Abbot Charles-Jean Bonvoust, who had been a resident of Brie.

Camembert (on the left) fuelled French troops during World War 1

Although the story may be apocryphal, Havel was a real person and her descendants certainly made Camembert the world-wide commercial success it later became.  It wasn't until 1890 that the typical wooden box was devised, by one Eugène Ridel, which enabled it to be shipped all over the globe.  Its position as a symbol of Frenchness was cemented in the Great War when Camembert formed part of the standard rations of French soldiers.

As it was in Trinity Square

I sought in vain for my favourite Normandy cheese, Livarot, especially as Stage 7 began in the town.  A cheese with  a longer history than Camembert, I remember eating it regularly with my friend HMS in Chez Gérard in Trinity Square.  At one point they had such a fetching French waitress working there that we went every week just to hear her pronounce "Livarot"; to which she managed, delightfully, to inject several extra syllables.  Fortunately, the manager ensured we were always sat at one of her tables. She earned a lot of money in tips from us.  Sadly, the chain is no more, going bust in 2011 and the eight Chez Gérard restaurants were sold to Raymond Blanc, who has re-branded them as Brasserie Blanc, in which guise the Trinity Square restaurant (overlooking the Tower of London) still exists.

Anyway, to provide some variation I added some French paté and, of course some cornichons which I first had with paté in a restaurant in Normandy on a holiday in the early eighties.

Normandy means cider, of course (I decided that buying a bottle of Calvados shortly before having a regular blood test at the doctor's was not a wise idea).  A few years ago it was relatively easy to get Normandy cider in British supermarkets but that was before the cider explosion of the last few years which has seen many more British ciders on sale but also Irish "modern" types and one ubiquitous Swedish brand.  These have all squeezed out the Normandy product. Even our local Waitrose branches didn't have it but I did get some, eventually, in the Waitrose in the basement of John Lewis in Kingston, which has a specialist wine and beer department.

Stages 7,8 and 9 were all in Brittany so I decided a nice generic Breton chicken dish was called for.  This involved cooking chicken separately in one pan and then gently sauteing cubes of apple, onion and leeks in another pan.  You then return the chicken to the pan and add enough cider to cover everything before letting it bubble away for forty five minutes or so.

Before serving, I added a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and some cream and let it simmer for five minutes.  It went very well with more cider.  Finding Breton cider really was impossible!

Next time the Tour reaches the Pyrenees, a part of France the Legatus remembers from his childhood.


  1. What a fantastic idea, you are lucky sir to live below the Watford Gap and have your every (almost) whim catered for.

    1. The Borough of Elmbridge, where I live, was recently declared the second best place to live in Britain (after some village in Hampshire). A large selection of major supermarkets within 15 minutes drive may have helped!

  2. Replies
    1. It's more that I don't like other vegetables and am not allowed potatoes!

  3. The chicken sounds lovely. What do you cook it in, the cider? Same for the leeks/onions etc?

  4. I added the cider after I had cooked the chicken and leeks and onions (separately) in olive oil. Then I put everything back together and simmered it in the cider.