While France is romanticised as a country where you can sip the finest wines and nibble on a beautiful array of pungent cheeses, Brittany is a little different. Firstly, when you visit Brittany, you are no longer in France. That is according to the locals, who call themselves Breton rather than French. And in this proud region while you might not find bountiful vineyards and an array of cheeses to fill a Instagram-able cheese board you will find other culinary delights.
Here we drink cider.
Rather than raising a glass of dry Sancerre in the Loire Valley or a full bodied earthy Châteauneuf-du-pape in Rhône region, in Brittany we drink Cider. A perfect climate for apple orchards, you will find apples growing all over this region.
In the southwest you can follow the Cornouaille Cider Trail and discover the production of AOP Breton Cider in the Finistère region. Otherwise, you will find many apple juice and cider producers around Dol-de-Bretagne, the Rennes and Vitré valleys and all along the Rance valley.
Breton Cider has a distinct rich, rustic, and bold flavour. It’s colour varies from straw yellow to muddy brown and it can be clear or cloudy. Orchards here use a certain variety of apple trees in order to produce the unique flavour. Combinations of acidic, bittersweet, and sharp sour varieties. And while that might sound like it produces a harsh and sour drink, it is really very good.
How to drink cider.
If you prefer a sweeter flavour, then I would order a ‘cidre doux’ – usually a lower alcohol content and a sweeter smoother taste. Cidre doux is sometimes even offered to children! The alcohol content is less than 3%. For a slightly higher alcohol content (≈5%) and a richer more earthy flavour, order ‘cidre brut’.
Cider is traditionally served in a bolée in Brittany. This looks like a large tea cup and it is usually white with a red border. Embrace this tradition as it dates back to when Bretons made their own cups from terracotta. And in the countryside where cider was drawn in a bucket, everyone would bring their bolée and help themselves to a cup. The expression “boire une bolée” or “to drink a bolée” was common in Gallo speaking areas.
Order cider from any bar and drink it alongside your galette at a creperie.
Another Breton Drink
Secondly, another alcoholic drink that is representative of this region is Chouchen. And while you might not be familiar with this drink by name it is a close relative of one of the world’s oldest alcoholic beverages – mead. Made by fermenting honey in apple juice. As you can imagine it is very very sweet. You must drink Chouchen chilled, which combats the sweetness (keep it in the freezer before serving but never add ice!).
Mead can be traced all the way back to the neolithic era 10,000 BC and Chouchen similarly can be traced back to ancient Brittany. The name Chouchen has a complicated history. Most think Chouchenn is the Breton word for mead but both Mez and Dourvel mean “honey water” in Breton. And if you make the drink with Cider the Breton word would be Chufere, literally translating to “fierce juice”!
Trademarked in the 1920s, Chouchen became the official name for mead produced in Brittany. Today you can find different recipes that may or may not use apple juice or cider in the production.
Bretons used to say that drinking too much Chouchen will make you fall backwards. Producers of Chouchen would but an entire honeycomb into the mixture and often bees ended up in the drink. Drinking a bee’s venom attacks the cerebellum, the part of your brain responsible for balance. Or, at least, that’s what drunken Bretons told their wives! But don’t worry, you won’t find any venom in Chouchen today.
Not a very cheesy region.
There are a few cheeses produced in Brittany. Found at local markets and épiceries across Brittany. However, it is not a region known for cheese. It is a region of butter!
I would argue that Brittany has the best butter in the world. Sorry Kerry Gold of Ireland but Brittany does it better. This is thanks in large part to the salt. Due to the geography of this large peninsular, it is blessed with natural sea salt beds and marshes. The most famous of these is just outside of Brittany (although it used to be within the borders) in Guérande – where salt has been harvested since roman times. While unsalted (doux) butters do exist in Brittany, households overwhelmingly choose slightly salted (demi-sel) for everyday use in cooking, baking and on their daily baguette.
Le Beurre Bordier
While it is a hotly debated topic, time and again Le Beurre Bordier comes out on top as the worlds best butter. And I can tell you from experience it really is incredible. While working as a tour guide, I had a gluten free guest eat it with a spoon! Jean-Yves Bordier uses ancient artisanal methods to create his butter and only the best local milk and salt.
The milk is so fresh that the colour of Bordier butters changes depending on the season. In the summer it is bright yellow because the cows are grazing on fresh grass and wildflowers. In the winter is it pale almost white because the cows are eating dried grasses. Of course, this also changes the flavour – summer butter is more savoury and winter butter is sweeter.
Jean-Yves Bordier is so passionate about butter that at his shop in Saint Malo you can try all sorts of butters infused with different flavours. Used by chefs around the world and invented by Jean-Yves himself is Bordier seaweed butter – harvested from the Brittany coastline. Here he is describing his butter beautifully:
Okay, there is cheese.
Yes, there is cheese production in Brittany. This has not always been the case. Brittany produces more than 5 billion liters of milk (more than 20% of French production). But the Bretons preferred to use this milk for their beloved butter! It wasn’t until the beginning of the 19th century that monks began to make Breton cheese and the trend has caught on. Below are 4 Breton cheeses for you to try.
Le Petit Breton
Produced in Noyal-sur-Vilaine for over 100 years this is a super soft, rich and fruity cheese.
Les Fromages aux Algues
As with butter, the Bretons like to use seaweed to enrich all of their foods. Fromagerie d’Avor produce a creamy goats cheese infused with seaweed under their Le Bec Fin brand.
Le Trappe De L’Abbaye De Timadeuc
One of the best-known Breton cheeses in France. It was the monks of the abbey of Timadeuc, in the Morbihan that kick started Brittany’s cheese making. It has delicious nutty aromas.
Tomme du Nevet
A raw milk cheese, produced by Montbéliard cows. It is matured for 4 and 8 weeks in a cellar. And because you are in Brittany, you can find it with or without seaweed. A soft cheese with aromas of mushroom and a hint of hazelnut in the flavour.
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A travel and lifestyle blog. By me, Lydia. I'm based in Brittany, France and I am here to share an honest and informative account of my life here.