Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Brittany Break

I've recently returned from a trip to Brittany in France, and what an eye opener it has been. Seeing how the locals live has made me think about what is sadly lacking from our everyday lives here in the UK.

We stayed in in the small town of Lanvollon which is in the department of Côtes d'Armor. It's a lovely quiet place away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist towns, but for somewhere so seemingly laid back it has all the amenities including a fantastic supermarket. Considering the fact that Super U is a chain supermarket, which could be compared to our very own Sainsbury's or Tesco, it far supercedes our British counterparts. The quality and range of produce is astounding. I found myself almost giddy with excitement when I saw the fresh fish counter, and as Brittany is fringed by such a beautiful and bountiful coastline, it should have been no surprise really. We bought some locally caught moules (that's mussels to you and me) which we ate that evening, just simply done with some shallots, parsley, white wine and butter. They were deliciously sweet and tender.

Butter is big in Brittany and features heavily in many regional baked goods. I'm even thinking that if I can't buy the best croissants at home then I'm not going to bother with them again. Proper French croissants are flaky on the outside, soft in the middle and so buttery, you don't need anything else with them. As for the Breton cake, well that was melt-in-the-mouth heaven. I knew of the local cake and I even have a recipe for it, torn from a magazine, tucked away somewhere, but I had never tried it until now. We bought one that had some prune purée in between its shortcake-like layers – very nice.
Something I discovered about traditional Brittany butter is that there is never an unsalted variety. The Bretons like their butter salted and probably more so than we do, but there is a half-salted version for the more health conscious! Some types even contain little crunchy sea salt crystals.

Despite Brittany having a large dairy farming industry it doesn't make any cheese, which I find rather odd, but being in France there's no shortage from other regions. We found some delicious Comte, not just one type as you you'd maybe see in your local deli, but several, each having been differently aged.

Cheese of course, needs some bread to accompany it and a rich-tasting crusty baguette was in order. I like bread, but I love real French bread - it's just so tasty. Bread is an obvious daily requirement in the Breton home as it's not uncommon to see someone go out every day just to pick up a loaf. On a Sunday too, as the boulangerie is open well into the afternoon.
Baking seems to be an integral part of French life as there seems to be a boulangerie, patisserie or biscuiterie at every turn. Why isn't everyone fat in France with such a rich diet? That'll be the French Paradox then. I'm betting that all those fresh fruit and vegetables help negate the bad effects... oh and the wine is reputably beneficial of course.

Brittany is certainly a very picturesque part of France and is strangely reminiscent of Cornwall and Devon with its craggy coves, fishing villages and sandy beaches. The open countryside is grazed by cows and there are fields of maize and globe artichokes. The artichokes make for an interesting and attractive crop, I think.
I definitely fell in love with the area, especially the coast, so its marked for a revisit in the not so distant future.

For more pictures click here


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