Hostplus Hospitality Scholarship on the Road: Normandy with Caitlyn Rees

Photo: Theresa Harrison

2017 Hostplus Hospitality Scholarship winner Caitlyn Rees is on the road for the work experience of a life time. Her first stop: Normandy, and the cideria of Eric Bordelet. For sommelier Caitlyn, this is a once in a life time opportunity to work alongside one of the greats of the wine world, and a man who she describes as 'probably the best cider maker in the world.

  
 

Normandy is a gorgeous place, unlike any other parts of France I’ve seen before. There are cows everywhere and another green crop that I later found out is maize, used to feed the cows. 

Apparently, all of those fields with maize used to be orchards and Eric was a little sad at the number of old trees that have been cut down. There is no protection for these trees which are hundreds of years old. My arrival at Eric’s was a little stressful. I wasn’t sure if my little rental car would make down the unpaved road that seemed to go on forever. Then I got out of the car and three huge dogs were approaching me, barking aggressively – eventually Eric found me and saved me!

He’s an interesting man. He started off treating me like I was at a job interview. He was asking me to clarify why I was here, what I do back home, asking me about my career etc. He’s also quite secretive – he purposely doesn’t tell me exactly how he does certain things. He mentioned he’s had people try to copy him and he won’t let me take photos inside the cideria, but I could tell even as the day went on. The first day he was starting to trust me and open up. By the end of the second day we were discussing philosophy. And by the end of the third day I was part of the family!

 

Was there anything that surprised you that they differently from home? 

I’ve actually never visited a cider producer before, at home or overseas so I don't have much of a frame of reference but I have obviously visited a lot of wine producers and I can see that what he is doing is incredibly labour intensive. He basically applies his wine knowledge (he studied winemaking and also worked as a sommelier at l’Arpege in the late 80s/early 90s) to making cider. He also has a new project, a beverage called corme. It is made in the same way he makes cider or sherry but with corm, which is a fruit I’ve never heard of before.

I googled it and its also known as ‘service tree fruit’..? It’s a seed fruit and in the same family as apple, pear or quince and it does share aromas and flavours of those fruits, but corme is much more exotic. The aroma reminds me of apricot, pear and umeshu. The flavour and aroma intensity is higher and the acidity is higher. It’s probably the best of his range and it’s a great story – nobody else, to his knowledge is producing it and the trees are hundreds of years old. He was given a book about the cormier (corm tree or service tree) in his region and it had the locations of these old trees and then he set off to find them and begin relationships with the land owners to collect the fallen fruit each year.

 

What did you eat?

I ate a lot of fish, seafood is very abundant in Normandy as is beef. I had the best mussels in my life, which I collected with some friends off the floor of the ocean when the tide was low. They were a lot smaller than the ones we get at home and very sweet. I also something called ‘olivette petoncles' which looks like a small scallop but tastes more like a clam. We made that into a risotto, baked sardines, andouilette, the sweetest tomatoes I’ve had in my life just raw with olive oil, salt and pepper, tiny prawns that you eat whole –packed full of flavour – and sea snails just boiled and dipped into homemade mayonnaise. I ate about a kilo of those! And beautiful wild strawberries that are tiny and taste like sherbet.