Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2008-06-23
In Blangy-le-Château (around 6 miles from Pont-l’Evêque and 12 miles from Deauville), François David has, for 50 years, been making marvellous unfiltered, natural sweet ciders that exalt the aromas of an old variety of apple, nowadays almost extinct: the joly rouge.
François David is one of the most colourful characters in the Calvados region. If you drop by to see him, you may well find nobody home, because even when he is actually on his farm (swarming with hens, cocks and ducks), this strapping man does not like to be disturbed… If you are insistent, you might be granted the privilege of sampling his sumptuous ciders, and if you wait a few more hours (the time it takes for him to size you up), you might even (oh miracle) be able to buy a few bottles (but I’m not making any promises)… Unsociable and instinctive, François David has never gone in for marketing – which is what makes him so charming!
It was in 1958, at the age of 16, that this nigh-on 2m-tall Norman, weighing over 100 kg, took over his father’s farm, which then had 30 ha of apple trees: “At that time, my father Gabriel was producing 800 hectolitres of cider a month for the dock workers and sailors from Le Havre – it was their favourite drink.”
Today, François David cultivates less than 5 ha. Most of his standard apple trees are a hundred years old and rooted in clay soil bordered by the lovely Chaussey river. Each tree produces only 150 kg of apples a year, but what apples! “The joly rouge is an old variety, virtually extinct today, which gives an incredibly fragrant cider. Thanks to it, I have obtained over 120 gold medals in 50 years’ experience.”
So from October to December, François David harvests his apples by hand, sorts them and stores them in his loft for 3 or 4 months, so they can continue ripening while sheltered from the elements: “The fruit dries a little, and in so doing becomes richer in sugar and flavour.” In March, the time comes to gently press the apples with the aid of the family cider press, a Simon de Cherbourg purchased in the 1940s.
Unfiltered and 100% natural, François David’s ciders undergo no addition of carbon dioxide or yeasts – they are pure and owe their fine white head to natural fermentation alone, which is carried out for 60 days in old port barrels. “To remove the impurities, I decant it a few times, that’s all.” As soon as the cider is clear in the test tube, it can be bottled and left to settle for at least 3 months.
With only 2 or 3 degrees of alcohol, François David’s sweet ciders are thirst quenching and leave a slight taste of sugar on your lips. They can be kept for 10 or 15 years in a temperate cellar. If you open a bottle, the cider will of course be a little oxidised (hence its darker colour) the following day, but will keep all its freshness and fragrances! Delicious with an apple foie gras or a good Livarot cheese.
For further information
Route de Fierville
14 130 Blangy-Le-Château
Tel: + 33 (0)2 31 64 76 66
These 100% traditional ciders are rare (only 10,000 bottles a year) but very inexpensive considering their quality: €3.80 a bottle.
You can also find them at the Le Bréard restaurant in Honfleur, or at the Hostellerie de Tourgéville, founded by French filmmaker Claude Lelouch.
7, rue du Puits
14 600 Honfleur
Tel: +33 (0)2 31 89 53 40
Hostellerie de Tourgéville
3 chemin de l'Orgueil - Tourgéville
Tel: +33 (0)2 31 14 48 68
For a bite to eat in the area, I recommend a wonderful bistro where you can sample the best tripe in the Pays d’Auge, served with homemade fries: the Relais de Tourville (€16 for a set meal).
Relais de Tourville
Route de Honfleur
Tel: + 33 (0)2 31 65 04 17