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France – Monday: St Pierre sur Dives

August 14, 2012

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Here is Le Pressoir in its beautiful and tranquil setting. Although sometimes, it has to be said, a peace disturbed by the combine harvester at work. Jean-Michel apologised for the noise Sunday evening but for those of us who live near Heathrow airport, What’s in a noise? Such noise by any other name might be a plane. And anyway, it didn’t last long and yesterday evening I looked out of my bedroom window to see a tractor gathering the hay into bales and the view was so glorious it was like a painting come to life.

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When I met Ian at a friend’s party in June and was talking about coming to Normandy for my holiday, he told me he and his wife had a place here and suggested a few places we might enjoy, but especially recommended for the food blogging holidaymaker  was a visit to the Monday market at St Pierre sur Dives. A market has been held in this town since the 11th century, originally formed round a Benedictine abbey that was founded in 1012 by William the Conqueror’s great-aunt. It became an economic centre for the region with people coming from far around to sell their produce: now famous local cheeses like Camembert, Neufchâtel, Pont L’Eveque and Livarot; cider and its pear cousin, poire; calvados; honey and homemade jams; wonderful fruits and vegetables; tiny shrimp and oysters from the nearby coast, and meats – farm chicken and guinea fowl, lamb and beef and cured meats such as saucisson.

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The impressive Halles, the ancient market halls, date from the 13th century and although sadly they were mostly burnt down during WWII, they have been restored with care to their original form.

We were in our own little gastronomic heaven. And fortunately had brought big bags to carry lots home!

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First up was cider buying and we started tasting. The tasting cups were quite big. You could get drunk here quite quickly. At this point Nicola – who doesn’t like cider – suggested she drive home. Good idea. We tasted sweet cider, demi-sec and brut and came away with a few bottles … and also some honey from the same stall.

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Nearby we saw a stall selling a variety of saucisson at 5 for €10. Thus some time was spent by Jonathan – our lover of saucisson – choosing between those flavoured with things like calvados, herbs or black pepper.

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We moved moved from the outside stalls into the Halles. They are stunning. What a wonderful place to shop. We spied a stall selling green, yellow and white courgettes – the white ones in round shapes like small pumpkins. Nicola said she’d tried to grow some without much success – although her other courgettes are doing well – and suggested we buy yellow and white ones to go with the large green one Claude had given us the night before from her vegetable patch back at Le Manoir.

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And of course needed olives and so we spent a few minutes sampling some home prepared olives with a variety of seasonings at a stall that tempted us.

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As we started to head off I noticed a stall selling tins of foie gras and pâtés and bought some duck rillettes.

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Then we went in search of a boulangerie and butcher, buying wonderful sausages and lamb to BBQ that evening. In the bakery we bought baguettes for lunch, a lovely brioche for breakfast the next morning and macaroons at the bargain price (by London terms) of €5.80 for 100g which gave us 8 – two each to go with post-dinner coffee.

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Back home we lunched on gorgeous Neufchâtel and Comte cheese that we’d bought in the market with cider.

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Then it was siesta time, followed by a swim before all hands on deck for supper. I marinated the lamb, Nicola cut up the courgettes to roast in the oven with olive oil and garlic.

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And soon there was the smell of meat cooking on the barbecue.

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Wine was opened and we sat down to a lovely meal to end our day.

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