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Jul 25, 2019

Life's a Beach: Sablé du Boulonnais

THE STORY:

When you think of the French coastline and the beaches, I know that what pops into your mind is the Côte d'Azur and the Mediterranean. The Côte d'Azur is indeed beautiful, but not only is it not France's only coastline, it's not even France's longest coastline. For that, you need to head to the Atlantic -- with wide, almost-white-sand beaches that expand down for around 1000km from the North Sea down to the Spanish border.



Some of the characteristics of the Atlantic beaches are not just sand but also low-lying marshy areas, oyster beds, sailing and yachting marinas, and off-shore fishing. When we travel out to the West Coast of France, we stay near a relatively unkown beach in the Vendée of Bretagne that has all of that. (As an American, and a Californian in particular, it feels especially odd -- wrong even -- to know that the West Coast is the Atlantic Coast!)


Les Sables d'Olonne and Saint Jean du Monts are some of  the biggest tourist towns on the northern part of the Altantic coast, in the Vendée. Further south, in the area historically called the Charentes, you've got famous summer resort Royan, and more small resort towns up and down the coast. Amazingly, there are only two full-fledged cities on the coast -- La Rochelle and Biarritz -- and neither of these is very large.

In 2010, storms and particularly high tides caused damage to so many coastal areas that the French government established new, strict rules expanding the distance from shore where development is allowed. Given the threat of rising oceans and repeat damage, they are even mandating the tearing down of certain coastal areas already built.

But much of the coastline is made up of fantastically unspoiled beaches. The Atlantic coast of the Pyrénées portion of France alone -- called the Côte d'Argent (Silver Coast) -- has a mostly-deserted stretch of white sandy beach that runs almost 150m (nearly 200km) long.There are are some enormous sand dunes as well, including Dune du Pilat, the highest sand dune in all of Europe, located in the central Atlantic coast.

It's so different than the Mediterranean coast, which "only" goes for about 600km. The Mediterranean beaches, even the famous ones like at Cannes and Nice, are rocky/pebbly. But on the other hand they are also much warmer, calmer, and with more turquoise-colored waters than the Atlantic. But the Atlantic has its own beauty, and the fact that it's so much less crowded and built-up than the Mediterranean is one of its primary draws. The lovely, soft sand is another.

The Côte d'Azur is not the only fancy-named coast. Each section of coastline has its own name:


From north to south, the Atlantic coast consists of the Côte d'Iroise, Côte de Cornouaille, Côte des Mégalithes, Côte d'Amour, Côte de Jade, Côte de Lumière, Côte des Fleurs, Côte de Beauté, Côtes Sauvages, Côte d'Argent, and Côte Basque. Here is the little Côte de Lumière beach we often visit:



And while we're at it: on the English Channel, the coasts from the west to east are the Côte des Abers, Côte des Légendes, Ceinture Dorée, Côte de Granite Rose, Côte de Goëlo, Côte Emeraude, Côte des Havres, Côte de la Déroute, Côte de Nacre, Côte Fleurie, Côte de Grâce, Côte d'Albâtre, Côte Picarde, Côte d'Opale, and Côte des Dunes de Flandres. Here is the Côte d'Emeraude:


The Côte d'Azur is only a small portion of the Mediterranean coast: from west to east, the beaches are known as the Côte Vermeille, Côte d'Améthyste, Côte Camarguaise, Côte Bleue, and then the Côte d'Azur which has further demarcations inside it of the Côte des Maures, Côte de l'Esterel, and Côte de la Riviera.

Côte Vermeille:



Côte d'Azur:


You can see I don't have my own, recent photos of the Cote d'Azur, and that's because I am never tempted to go there. It's not that I hate it there; it's just that between the rocky beaches, constant crowds, and general high level of development, when it feels like beach time, we always choose other beaches that are either familiar (Côte de Lumière or Côte d'Emeraude) or feel new and adventurous.

THE CHEESE: Sablé du Boulonnais

Le Sablé du Boulonnais, which means "The Sandy One from Boulonnais" is, as the name suggests, made on the coastline, specifically the Côte d'Opale on the English Channel. Like its close and more famous cousin le Sablé du Wissant, which is also made on the English Channel coast, it owes its serious stink to being rubbed with beer during the aging process -- specifically Bière Blanche de Wissant ("White Beer of Wissant"). Despite the so-called whiteness of the beer, this process turns the crust orange, and creates a golden, creamy-chewy, pungent interior.


The "sand" in the title is breadcrumbs, a light dusting that helps absorb and retain the flavor of the alcohol and enhances the texture a little bit, too.

Le Sablé du Boulonnais is made from raw cows' milk collected warm morning and night for three seasons per year -- all but winter -- at local farms. It's then turned into cheese at La Ferme du Vert ("The Farm of the Greens").


THE CONNECTION:



Le Sablé du Boulonnais is a cheese that's all about the sand. And what could possibly be sandier than 1000km of wide, sandy-colored beaches?!

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