This time in Normandy, I managed to taste three particularly outstanding cheeses—the Camembert au Calvados (Normandy’s own apple liqueur), the Pont l’Evêque (named after the town), and La Ferme du Bois Normand’s fresh chèvre crottin (a local farmstead cheesemaker that I visited last year. You can read about it here!). OK, there were four cheeses if you count the traditional Camembert, but I’ve already written about that one, which you can read about here. I’ll go in traditional cheese plate order, from mild to strong!
La Ferme du Bois Normand’s cheeses are not something you’re going to find in the States, or even outside of south Normandy (Verneuil-sur-Avre, Senonches, La Ferté Vidame). Co-owner Charlotte Milheut is a well-known face at local markets, where she has cultivated a devoted following for her snowy white and ash-covered chèvre creations. If I could only eat one cheese every day, it might well be fresh chèvre. Fresh, as in a couple of days old, heck even a couple hours old, so you can taste the milk. Charlotte’s cheese was emblematic of what I look for in the fresh crottins. It was snowy white inside and out, with no mold development. The paste looked rather cakey and moist. It smelled just like milk, with a hint of tartness. When it came to the flavor, well, I don’t usually taste fresh cheeses like this. It started off innocuously enough, giving off fresh milk flavor with a slight hint of grass and tartness. Then, a distinct barnyard/goat essence came through—as though a goat was sitting beside me watching me eat its cheese. I can’t really describe it any other way. Maybe that’s the magic of this crottin. It feels immediate—like you are in direct contact with the farm, the animals, and the maker.
The Pont l’Evêque was the elegant lady of the cheese plate. Compared to the crottin’s simplicity and the Camembert’s brashness, the Pont l’Evêque was moderate and subtle. The edges of its square form were light pumpkin orange, indicative of the washing it received to obtain its signature flavor. It smelled slightly sweaty, slightly musty like a cellar, with a hint of guinea fowl or some other poultry. Tasting the cheese, (yippee) yielded similar flavors. It was fairly mild, just a little sweaty sock-like, a little buttery, with a bit of poultry-like umami at the end. This particular piece of Pont l’Evêque had a slightly springy paste that still melted in my mouth as I swallowed it down with cider.
I presented the Camembert au Calvados with great flourish the evening we found it, and, surprisingly, the locals at the table had never heard of it before. That didn’t stop anyone from loving the cheese, though. It’s a regular Camembert that’s been soaked in apple liqueur for 3-5 hours, then coated lightly with breadcrumbs and pulverized walnuts. The result is nothing short of spectacular. It becomes, in essence, a mild washed-rind cheese, evoking sweaty apples in addition to that classic mushroomy, earthy Camembert flavor and slight nuttiness from the walnuts. This particular round was perfectly ripe, so the paste oozed lusciously—on the plate, on the bread, on our tongues. I think I ate about half of the round in a day, if that’s any indicator of deliciousness!
If you’re ever in the region of Verneuil-sur-Avre in France, keep an eye out for La Ferme Du Bois Normand! And if you want a traditional taste of Normandy, keep an eye out for Pont l’Evêque, traditional Camembert, and Camembert au Calvados!