8 Days in France- Caen,Stinky Cheese,Calvados and New Friends

After leaving the lovely town of Rouen, we started driving toward Caen. On the way we stopped at a Cheese Factory. It was kind of funny because I kept thinking that this was the French equivalent of the Herr's Potato Chip factory near my home which gives tours and samples.  Inside it was much the same with the welcome area explaining in the process, the introductory videos, the long hallways with windows into the different making and curing rooms with the gift shop and tasting room at the end.

We got there in the afternoon, so unfortunately we didn't get to see any live workers because they milk the cows and start making the cheese while it is fresh very early in the morning and then go home, so that made the tour a bit dull until we got to the gift room. This was filled not only with your typical tourist cha cha's but with all kind of tasty delights which I had never seen or heard of. This is where my first encounter with Calvados, Cidre, and the very stinky cheeses that the Normandy region is known for occurred.

Calvados is a drinkable brandy created, believe it or not, from apples.It is very tasty and one of my new favorite drinks. Our tour guide said that when she was a little girl,her mother would cook a 13 course dinner on Sundays. They would spend hours at the table and in the middle of the meal, every one would take a shot of Calvados, because they say it puts a hole in your stomach so you can eat more! It is aged and priced like whiskies according to age and Calvados Boulard is one of the most famous brands.  

Normandy boasts the famous villages of CamembertPont-l'Evêque and Livarot and makes cheeses bearing their names. They also make a Neufchatel that is nothing like what we buy in the grocery store.

Cider  In an area so well known for growing apples it should come as no surprise that there is also a large cider industry.  The main production centres around the Pays d’Auge between Caen and Lisieux. We bought a bottle of the cider which happens to be alcoholic (about 5.6%) and I have to say that this was NOT my favorite. Nor was the  Pont-l'Evêque that we bought to eat with it.

 Once we left the cheese factory and headed to our hotel, I went upstairs to our room. The hotel seemed like the freakiest place because you walked into dark hallways and had to feel along the wall to find a light. Oh, those energy conscious Europeans! I don't think this would ever play in the US! Our hotel was in a quaint residential area and when I entered our modest hotel room, dumped my gear and looked out our window, I saw that it overlooked a back yard that seemed to be peppered with art and sculpture. I opened the window (you can actually do that in a European hotel) and stood taking inventory of the scene. In addition to the art and sculpture, there were people sitting in chairs and listening to someone read under a canopy and a table with wine glasses and lots of bottles of wine on it. All of these items put together in my head = art opening!

I grabbed Dyana and we headed around the corner to investigate. We found the opening to the yard and we slinked in timidly at first in case we were intruding on some private affair, but it became clear very quickly that this was indeed a show and sale of local artists. The home we later learned had been owned by a prominent French artist who had no heirs and had left it as an art center when she recently died.

Dyana is fluent in French and began speaking with one of the artists who was perched at a table under a tree, leaning back, smoking french cigarettes with some others. I stood around in amazement at what luck had brought us. Was it not enough to be in France and treading the ground of my artistic heroes, but now to be visiting with modern, living french artists? I was absolutely giddy inside! They were all so friendly and nice. Jeanne Francois spoke some English and took us to see his paintings in one of the co-op spaces where his show was hung. We conversed awkwardly about being artists (he said he had bagged the corporate life to be an artist) but the smiles and friendly laughter transcended the language.

We had to leave for dinner but when I went to close the window in my room, Karin, a friend of the other artists, saw me and insisted that we come back over and drink some wine with them. Dyana and I went back over and sat in the yard with JF, Karin, David and a lovely gentle man named Emmanuel. Dyana did most of the talking and I listened to them all converse in French but it's amazing how much can be picked up and communicated  through, laughter, smiles, hand gestures and nods. It was such a wonderful night. One I will never forget. Jeanne Francois is my friend on Facebook and you should check out his art and say hello. (Facebook translates comments). This is undoubtedly one of the best nights I had in France.

Jeanne Francois Pientre Peslot

David, JF, Karin, Emmanuel (L to R)