The territorial dispute was settled long ago: yes, Mont Saint-Michel is located in Normandy, and not in Brittany. However, the eponymous bay is shared by the two neighbouring regions... Here, we find ourselves in Brittany, in Roz-sur-Couesnon; and specifically, on the Saint-Louis polder. Commonly found in countries such as the Netherlands, polders are land that have been reclaimed from the sea by human effort, via the construction of dykes. Having crossed the last dyke, an almost infinite horizon appears, broken merely by a few vertical lines – the rows of trees planted on the dykes – and in the distance, the silhouette of the famous Mont Saint-Michel itself. And as far as the eye can see, mile after mile of grassland repeatedly submerged beneath the sea… the famous salt marshes.
From sea to land
On 22 May 2023, Yannick Frain has – as usual – started his day at dawn. He is waiting eagerly for us here in his ancestral homeland, which he has never left... well, almost never. In his youth, a desire for adventure did in fact prompt him to set foot aboard some iconic ships like the schooner La Belle Poule, the famous Belem, and the Cancale bisquine fishing boat. Family priorities required him to come ashore earlier than expected and take over the farm that had been founded by his great-grandparents in 1865! Ever since, he has been a breeder and producer of salt marsh lambs.
The holy grail of AOC and AOP
On this morning, a few ewes and their lambs – some of which have been born in the past few days and even the day before – remain sheltered in a generously straw-filled sheepfold. Yannick takes us to the salt marshes, illuminated by gentle sunlight, to meet the rest of the flock: at first, small white dots that can be seen from afar, then four-legged silhouettes that become more distinct as we approach. The salt marsh lamb meat from Mont Saint-Michel has enjoyed controlled designation of origin (AOC) since 2009, and now also has a protected designation of origin (AOP) – the European equivalent of the AOC. The AOC and AOP are a sort of “holy grail” for agricultural production, the most prestigious of all recognitions. Yannick Frain, who remains the president of the appellation, was one of the most active forces in securing it. To maintain the designation, each producer is obliged to comply with a very rigorous specification that leaves nothing to chance, including the breed of sheep (Suffolk or Roussin de la Hague), the age at slaughter, and a ban on the use of GMOs.
The secret of salt marsh lamb? Its diet!
The lamb’s diet has a considerable influence on the quality of its meat. Out on the salt marshes, between land and sea, Yannick's approximately 800 animals feast on halophytic vegetation – which thrives in salty environments – consisting of puccinella, obione, samphire and spartina. These plants are what gives the meat its highly distinctive and subtle iodised taste. Yannick's animals are capable of covering very long distances, and as a result, the meat from these “athletes” holds together perfectly and has a magnificent marbling, the intramuscular fat that provides great juiciness and enables the flavour to permeate the flesh. Whether roasted, stewed or grilled, this lamb – acclaimed by numerous butchers and chefs from the local region and beyond – lends itself to a multitude of traditional or more inventive recipes.
It's almost noon, and Yannick has a multitude of things to do. He spends a few minutes talking about FEVAO, a federation uniting the eleven AOP meat products of France, including Charolais beef, Camargue bull, Bresse poultry, and (soon) Bourbonnais poultry. Insatiable and always committed, Yannick is the vice-president of this new federation, whose aims are to promote dialogue between breeders and communicate effectively with all stakeholders in the meat industry. But most importantly, it’s time for a family lunch with his little “tribe” made up of wife Lydie and children Cécile and Alexandre. And what’s on the menu? Lamb…
Yannick Frain: Polder Saint-Louis, 35610 Roz-sur-Couesnon. France. > +33(0)6 10 79 62 78