Pork Loin with Apples and Cider Sauce
When people think of France and what to drink there, the first thing that comes to mind are all of the fabulous wines. It is a well-kept secret, however, that the best cider in the world comes from France too, and the best, most lovingly crafted cider comes out of Brittany and neighboring Normandy. The mild and damp climate of this region is hard on grapes but perfect for apples. Like the vignerons to the south, the artisanal cider-makers use the many varieties of apples, the mysteries of the terroir, and the picking and fermentation methods of their ancestors to craft cider unique to their particular taste and region. Acknowledging these parallels to wine, two cider regions were granted AOC status in 1996: the Pays d'Auge in Normandy and Cornouaille in the Quimper region of southern Brittany.
Ciders differ greatly, but most have about a 6% alcohol level and have a yeasty, fruity flavor and a light sparkle. Every restaurant and crêperie in Brittany has a cider list and an assortment on tap. Recently, cider making and apple growing has undergone a revival, and many farmers are committing to new heirloom varieties of apples that could be on the brink of being lost forever.
Close to our maison Eric Baron has a cider farm called Domaine de Kervéguen in a little town called Guimaëc, not far off the main road between Lannion and Morlaix. Recently a group of us went to visit and sample the cider. Eric is the fourth generation of cider-makers on the farm. He explained that he makes cider using the traditional methods of his grandfather and great grandfather. He uses a combination of apples, from very sweet to very sour; they are all picked by hand, ground, pressed and fermented in oak barrels, unlike most producers today who use stainless steel. Different levels of sweetness are combined and refined to make different styles of cider: doux, the sweetest; demi sec and sec, and a Cuvee du Paysan that is extra dry. Since 1997 Eric has been supplying the Elysée palace with his Carpe Diem Prestige cider and showed us pictures taken in 2009 when he was invited to serve cider at a garden party there.
We walked through the orchard and toured the old, stone colombier (dovecote) at the top of the hill. Back in the tasting room we tried various years of his cider and bought some bottles of the 2010 Cidre à l'ancienne Brut to take home with us.
The day after our visit to the farm was market day in Penvenan, so I headed over and bought all the things I would need to make a delicious little pork roast with cider and calvados. I brined the roast in a cider brine variation to make the meat especially tender, juicy and apple permeated. This recipe made the house smell delicious all day! I served it with boiled, mashed parsnips seasoned with butter and cream and a simple green salad. Dessert was a raspberry sorbet with a classic breton butter cookie.
Cidres Domaine de Kervéguen
Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Remove from heat and cool completely.
Add the pork to the brine solution and immerse completely in the liquid. Refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours. Remove from the brine (discard the brine) and pat dry.
Heat a large deep casserole over medium high heat. Add the butter and oil and when almost smoking add the pork loin and sear on all sides.
Remove the meat from the pan and add the onions, apples and carrots and sauté until soft. Add the calvados and boil for about 1 minute.
Add the cider, stock, thyme and bay leaf and peppercorns. Return the pork to the pan and bring to a simmer, cover and place in a 350 oven and braise for about 2.5 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 130-140. Remove the meat from the pan to a platter and tent with foil.
Strain the cooking liquid through a sieve and return to the pan. Bring to a boil and cook at a boil to reduce to a glazey consistency. Whisk in the mustard and the cream. Taste the sauce for salt and pepper. Slice the pork and serve with the sauce, sautéed apples, mashed parsnips and a sprinkle of parsley.