There was a time when . . . pear cider (known in France as poiré) was going along quite nicely, supplying mainly the local market.
Then, in the 1990s, a handful of producers took the bit between their teeth with a two-fold objective : to promote poiré and to protect the local landscape. At that time they were faced with the threat of increased maize production, which meant that the large pear trees were felled, and the demand from Italian cabinet makers, who wanted to buy these same trees for their marquetry requirements.
Although neither threat has totally disappeared, poiré today is proudly promoted as Poiré Domfront, as
- an AOC or Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (since 2002),
- an AOP(*) or Appellation d’Origine Protégée, is equivalent to the AOC in Europe (since 2006).
(*) The AOP label is attributed to original food products of quality that are characteristic of the region from which they come. The producers themselves are responsible for their Appellation d’Origine. They suggest production criteria that are subject to official decree. The INAO (National Institute of Origin and Quality) (http://www.inao.gouv.fr/) undertakes, on behalf of the State, to ensure the protection of the AOC/AOP label and to respect production methods, both in France and abroad. The Appellation d’Origine process is a driving force in the local economy and has an important role to play in the development of a region.
The “Haute Tiges” traditional pear orchards are unique in Europe
The locals have a saying “100 years to grow, 100 years to produce and 100 years to die”. Its origins are not some long-lost legend, but a reality that takes shape with every turn of the lane : the branches of these pear trees have covered the countryside for generations.
The Domfront area is home to orchards that are unique in Europe, with more than 100,000 pear trees, close to 100 varieties, and an average annual production of 25,000 tonnes of pears that will go to produce pear cider. Some trees are able to produce up to 1 tonne of fruit!
Did you know?
In the 11th century, pear trees were already present in Normandy when cider-making apples arrived from north-west Spain.
The key points of the specification
AOP/AOC means that production is in accordance with specified criteria :
- to only use varieties of poiré pears, among them the “Plant de Blanc” that gives Poiré Domfront AOP its particular character,
- fruit is collected at maturity after falling from the tree rather than being picked,
- slow, natural fermentation without the addition of agents to influence the yeast’s work,
- 100% natural effervescence in the bottle (the addition of gaseous substances is forbidden),
- pasteurisation is not permitted.
The producers’ focus is entirely towards producing a poiré of quality. The exacting standards are laid down in an official specification : all the batches are tasted by a panel of specialists, restaurateurs and producers and must be accepted by general consensus before being registered in the new charter “Poiré Domfront AOP”.
The Plant de Blanc, the queen of pears : minimum 40%
There are 90 varieties of poiré pears. For the AOP Poiré Domfront, 30 of these have been selected. They are essentially small pears with a sour taste that you would bite into only if you had to! Rouge Vigné, Gros Blot, Plant Roux, De Cloche, Gaubert… they each have their own qualities, but the variety that surpasses them all is the Plant de Blanc. Juicy and acidic, this variety is the constant of Poiré Domfront. Whilst it must make up at least 40% of Poiré Domfront, in reality this is between 60% – 80% of the content. Some producers have even chosen to use only this variety for some batches.