St Malo, is a historic walled city on the northern coast of Brittany. To many British visitors, I should imagine it is often overlooked as a ferry port and nothing more. The front porch of France, a means to an end, granted only the briefest of glimpses by passing families as they trundle through on their way to somewhere more exciting. A flash of grey stone wall through the window of a Honda Civic, while warring parents hunt desperately for the “Perriff-er-eek”.
Instead, St Malo is a mysterious place, crammed to the battlements with history and intrigue. Its cobbled streets trodden by pirates, sailors, kings and soldiers.
When I think of St Malo, the defining elements that stand out in my memory, are the butter and the sea. For me, those were the highlights; la mer and le beurre. (Incidentally these words rhyme if you’re bad at French. *waves*)
We spent our time in St Malo meandering along the cobbles and atop the stone walls, and sitting on the beach, letting the sea breeze bluster us about.
If it had been a little warmer we could have swum in the sea pool on the Plage de Bon Secours, but instead we settled for perching on a rock, feeling the sun beam down on our faces, and breathing in the sea air. I always feel like the salty air is good for you, like it’s ‘cleansing’ or ‘healing’ some other ridiculous Goopy nonsense. I don’t know what it is, it just makes me feel better. Maybe a little salty and bedraggled but always better.
In St Malo, you’re never very far from the sea. You’ll turn a corner and there, peeking through an archway is a glimpse of the big blue. The walls simultaneously hide and present it, inside you’re protected, but stone stairs lead to the wall-top walkways where the sea is visible from every angle.
And then there’s the butter.
There is a creamery in St Malo called Le Maison du Buerre where they make some of the best butter on Earth. It’s handmade by a butter king called Jean-Yves Bordier, the descendant of a family of cheesemongers. Jean-Yves settled in St Malo because he dreamt of being a sailor. Instead he ended up following his family tradition and became a butter artisan, which is definitely what I want to be when I grow up.
Bordier’s butter-mastering secret is buying the best dairy products from local farmers and kneading the butter at the end of the process. The result is a butter so good that it’s become world-famous and is shipped to restaurants across the globe. In England it’s stocked only in a few choice shops, including Fortnum and Mason.
I love butter. I have wasted a lot of time in my life eating substitutes – little sad tubs of yellow that although might look similar, just simply don’t compare. The tub might struggle to believe its contents are not butter, but I’m certainly not questioning it. Everything is just much better with butter.
Le Maison du Buerre is located down a narrow cobbled street so unassuming it looks like a back alley. Attached to the shop is a beautiful bistro, where every meal is served with a basket of bread and a selection of butter for you to try.
We visited on Easter Sunday and had a delicious meal of rabbit and pigeon with wine and a cheeseboard. Our bread basket was topped up a few times, as we worked our way through the entire butter platter. On the platter were 8 little cones of butter, each a different colour and flavour. Smoky, Roscoff onions, and Madagascan vanilla were our (combined) favourites.
Before our visit, we wondered whether Bordier butter was worthy of its international rep. I’d have to say it is, the butter was so smooth and creamy, with flavours so distinctive I can still taste them in my mind nearly a year on.
Looking around at the people on the other tables, we were confused to notice that none of them finished all of their butter. But we ate every last crumb. To quote your friend and mine Calvin Harris – those little cones were what we came for. It felt sacrilegious to leave any.