There are many things I love and admire about France – without doubt top of the list is the love of tradition and heritage that everyone holds dear in my region. Whether it’s cheese making, building a wall, a recipe or a festival, people here hold time honoured ways in great esteem.
At the weekend I went to the “Pomme et cidre” fete at Le Perlé de Groseille in Loison-sur-Créquoise, in the lovely Seven Valleys area of Pas-de-Calais. Each October Hubert Delobel the proprietor throws open the doors to his enterprise where he produces cider, wine and regional delicacies such as confiture and foie gras. The public are invited in to witness the pressing of the apples for his famous cider and to taste the produce and partake of his wife Catherine’s much loved crepes.
It was raining when we went but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of anyone who attended or any of the local producers who took part like Monsieur René Paindavoine of Les Vergers de la Praye, Houdain lez Bavay, near Lille. His family has been growing apples and pears with passion he says for more than a hundred years.
Madame Monique Lebrun of local nursery Mela Rosa sells roses and vintage apple trees and explained that many of the names of the apples like “Fraise” go back in history. Their origins are now lost but she continues to grow the species of the old days to conserve their heritage.
Of course the star of the day was cider and the 8500kg of apples were being pulped and pressed by Monseur Delobel, his three sons and helpers. He explained that the lack of sun this year had meant that there were far less apples produced than normal but on the upside the quality is very good. The apple he uses is Douce Abeille, grown locally and perfect for cider.
Perle de Groseille are gaining quite a reputation for their cider – last year’s batch was a finalist for a coveted prize at the Agricultural Festival of Paris earlier this year – the balance was extraordinarily good – not too sweet not too dry and very easy to drink!
The cider produced here is known as “farmer’s cider” – its not pasteurised like the stuff you buy in the supermarkets. Unpasteurised cider tastes quite different – much more complex, both sweet and astringent.
The company also makes sparkling wine from redcurrants, cherries and raspberries – of course we had to have a tasting of all three – delicious! I said to Martin Delobel who was hosting the tasting that it wasn’t unlike champagne, he looked at me quizzically and said that the difference is that champagne is fermented twice – these wines only once!
They also make an apple liqueur like a calvados, which nearly blew my head off – taken with a strong coffee though – absolutely amazing. I think I know now why most of our neighbours seem to be in a good mood when they’re up and about so early on cold mornings as a nip of this with your breakfast coffee will certainly invoke happiness!
Madame Catherine Delobel was making crepes (pancakes) a la maison and invited me into the kitchen to watch how they’re made. I was surprised to see her put beer in the mix but she says that it gives it oomph! She hand mixed all the ingredients – she says she never uses a machine, its not the same – and then cooked them on a griddle where they sizzled and puckered. Then she added fresh crushed raspberries, a dollop of Chantilly cream fresh from the farm and dusted the whole ensemble with icing sugar – superbe!
I’ll be going back next year to sample this year’s cider…A bientot Janine