Brittany, the 'market garden of France,' is a peninsula on France's north-western corner. Unlike the rest of the country, Brittany, along with Wales, Ireland, Scotland (and to a lesser extent Cornwall) is categorised as one of the five Celtic nations, which has often led to it being referred to as Lesser Britain. Indeed, the language of the region is not French but Breton which is Celtic in origin and rather similar to Welsh.
Brittany For Foodies
The list of foodie delights for which this beautiful region is famed is as long and varied as its 750 mile coastline. Ble noir, buckwheat flour produced in Brittany forms the basis of galettes of the east and crepes of the west. Both of these pancakes are real Breton favourites and can be enjoyed hot or cold stuffed with just about anything.
Galettes, from the east of the region, are made from buckwheat and water and are flatter and less airy that their western siblings the crepes. For a real taste of Brittany try one stuffed with grilled 100% pork sausage, another of the regions products washed down with a cup of local cider. Galettes are available just about everywhere in the east from roadside stalls, cafes and mobile stalls that pop up at local cultural and sporting events. Crepes, are made not with water but with eggs giving them a spongier and lighter texture and like the galette they can be stuffed full of sweet or savoury goodies. Traditionally, these are best enjoyed with lait ribot - Breton buttermilk.
Any time is a good time for galettes and crepes. They are served with fresh or stewed fruit at breakfast, as savoury food on the go during the day and by evening are turned into extremely sophisticated desserts by the region's best chefs.
Ble noir is also the flour of choice for the dumplings of what could be described as the region's signature dish, Kig ar Farz: a substantial stew of lamb, beef or pork depending on the season and the area of Brittany in which you are enjoying it. Breton faire is packed with fresh vegetables - no surprise as the region grows 70% of all the cauliflowers and shallots grown in France along with 65% of artichokes and 33% of spinach.
As impossible as this may seem, should you want an alternative to crepes or galettes, then try Breton Far, a delicious prune flan not unlike clafloutis or the very rich kouign amann; a sweet butter cake made from bread dough which is best served only slightly warm.
With its long coast line, the seafood in Brittany is exceptional with mussels and oysters being real specialities. Order a fruits de mer platter in Brittany and you won't be disappointed in either the variety or quality of the food presented to you. If you venture to Roscoff, the lobster there is said to be the best in France, if not Europe. Even very reasonably priced restaurants in Brittany's most coastal areas will have menus bursting with local, fresh caught sea food. Moules Frites, mussels served with a side order of fries makes a delicious light meal or substantial snack.
Though Brittany produces some very fine wines indeed, a discussion of the region's produce and products would be incomplete if its ciders did not get a mention. In Brittany and France in general, if you buy a bottle of cider it will usually come with a cork closure just like wine. Should you wish to enjoy it with a crepe or galette expect your cider to be served in the traditional Breton way, in a ceramic cup - bolee.
Thanks to the cuvee (keeving) process used to make Breton cider, the drink is not usually as alcoholic as counterparts in other French regions but is stunningly clear and sweet. The inventive Bretons have their own twist on the classic kir cocktail. Kir Breton (or Kir Normande as Brittany's neigbours would insist) is a deliciously refreshing aperetif of local cider and cassis. The Bretons also produce an apple brandy similar to Normandy's Calvados which is known as Lambig.
Beer has been made in Brittany since the seventeenth century and is a wonderful destination for real ale lovers to visit as the region is now home to many innovative breweries and microbreweries. Perhaps the most highly regarded of bier de Bretagne is the artisan produced Coreff de Morlaix.
Caravan Touring And Tasting The Wines Of Brittany
White Breton wines tend to be based on the Muscadet grape variety and the gros plant which yields a very dry white for the local market. All of Brittany's vineyards are in the very south of the region in and around the river Loire. As you would expect this crisp, dry Breton wines are perfect with local seafood dishes.
Chouchen is a Breton mead that incorporates buckwheat honey to give it its heady sweetness. Though very sweet indeed at around 14% alcohol typically, this is no light weight. It is enjoyed un-iced but cold all year round as an aperitif, though it can also be enjoyed hot in the winter. Chufere is similar to Chouchen but a somewhat lighter and more refreshing brew made from cider and honey and packs much less of an alcoholic punch at typically 8-9%.
Brittany's Cider Route
The Brittany cider route encircles the region. Where you begin will depend on where you are based. Let's start at the Colpo Cider Works around 20km north of Vannes. The full range of ciders are produced here, from the sweet and weak to strong dry ciders of in excess of 5% alcohol by volume. The Works relies on only three apple varieties in their products and has set up a conservation orchard.
Cidrerie du Manoir de Kinkiz is a producer of award winning ciders and an AOC gold medal winning pommeau as well as Brittany's own apple brandy, lambig. You can watch the production of all of these from apple to bottle at this cider works as fully guided tours of just about every area are available.
Call in on Alain le Roux, artisan cider maker at his Lizio Cider Works. He has dedicated his career to producing ciders from pure apple juice with no additions.
For a history of Brittany and its ciders why not visit the cider museum? Located in the beautiful Crozon Peninsula this museum is as interactive as they get with plenty of ciders to sample from all around the region. This is a great alternative destination if you simply don't have the time to travel the full cider route.
So my friend...sante ..to your health! May you have a wonderful time touring by caravan in Brittany, or visiting, whichever way you plan to do it!