Saturday, May 25, 2013

Bénédictine D.O.M., the Liqueur, and its Amazing Factory Benedictine in Fecamp, Normandy.

Bénédictine D.O.M 
Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman

A bottle of Bénédictine D.O.M.
Photograph courtesy of Bacardi- Martini
Bénédictine D.O.M. is an agreeable, sweet, orange and honey flavored, 40% proof, liqueur, named after the Bénédictine monks who purportedly  created it. This liqueur is only made in the pretty Atlantic coastal town of Fecamp, in Normandy, France.  There, in Fecamp, is the Bénédictine D.O.M. factory, called Le Palais Bénédictine, the Benedictine Palace.  That palace looks more like a French freaked out version of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry than a palace; however, here Bénédictine D.O.M  is made.

Le Palais Benedictine
Photograph courtesy of sky#walker
Bénédictine D.O.M on French menus
Bénédictine D.O.M, on its own, when well chilled, or with ice, is a singularly pleasant apéritif; when served at room temperature it is a pleasant and sweet digestif; despite its being a 40% proof liqueur.  Bénédictine D.O.M  is smooth and mild, and, perhaps for that reason it is the essential ingredient in quite a number of cocktails as well as sauces, pastries and other dishes  where the flavor of Bénédictine D.O.M adds that certain je ne sais quoi. Without any doubt the most popular liquid combination  using Bénédictine D.O.M is the drink called B & B.,  and that was certainly  not created by the Bénédictine  monks
 Bénédictine D.O.M., B & B, and the 21 Club in New York City
The 21 Club in New York City.
Photograph courtesy of  Emilio Santacoloma
B & B began as a combination of Bénédictine D.O.M . and brandy; created, in 1929, by the barman at a famous New York speakeasy, the 21 Club. The combination of Bénédictine D.O.M. and brandy produces a drier version of Bénédictine D.O.M. that is enjoyed both chilled and at room temperature. From those famous, infamous, beginnings, B & B  was on its way up the popularity polls where it remains today.  The 21 Club where all this began is now one of New York’s finest restaurants and remains at its 1929 address at 42 West 49th street; when dining at the 21 Club, you may still order a B  &  B.

Bottle of B & B
Photograph courtesy of Bacardi-Martini
In France, when in a restaurant, and ordering B & B you will be offered the bottled version that  uses cognac instead of brandy, and  is also made at  that French wizard’s school/factory/palace. If you are making your own version of B & B at home and if you seriously want a decent result you must use a decent cognac; a rougher brandy was OK at the times of prohibition, but times have changed.
The secret formula of Bénédictine D.O.M.
Bénédictine D.O.M. keeps the formula of their liqueur secret, just like Coca-Cola, but they do not deny that their formula includes 27 fruits and herbs that include hyssop, lemon balm, angelica,  coriander,  cloves, nutmeg, black tea, myrrh,  juniper berries,  Ceylon cinnamon, thyme, vanilla from de Madagascar, lemon zest, mace, orange zest and red berries and more.
Barrels of Bénédictine D.O.M. in the cellars of the Palais Bénédictine
Photograph courtesy of isamiga76
During the production process parts of the liqueur are stored separately in oak barrels for at least 8 months before being prepared for mixing and following that  the completed liqueur is stored for another number of months, again in oak barrels, before being finally tested, filtered, and bottled.  After two or more years from the beginning of the initial production Benedictine D.O.M. is ready for sale.
The history of the Bénédictine monastery in Fecamp
The story behind the Bénédictine monks  in Fecamp, Normandy, is the history before the production of the Bénédictine D.O.M liqueur. The monks’ history is a story of religious zeal, royal intrigue, the French conquest of England’ under William the conqueror, and the monastery’s destruction under the French revolution. The first  Bénédictine monastery in Fecamp, Normandy, was probably established in the late 6th century with its influence and importance dating from the building, or rebuilding in the 11th century.  Despite some questions about the recipe, the monks almost certainly probably did make a liqueur in that monastery, from the 16th century onwards, and  the honor for the creation of that liqueur, is given to an Italian monk named Dom Bernardo Vincelli. 
    Bénédictine monks today.
Photograph courtesy of prayitno
With the French revolution came anti-religious fervor, and in 1789, the monastery was destroyed and the monks dispersed. Despite the revolution the Bénédictine Abbey church the Abbaye de la Trinité de Fécamp, the Benedictine Abbey of the Trinity in Fécamp; unlike the monastery was not destroyed and may be visited. How close the original liqueur made by the monks was to the present day Bénédictine D.O.M. is lost in the storm clouds of the French revolution; the discovered documents that are said to relate to the original formula for Bénédictine D.O.M. are considered industrial secrets and have never been displayed.

The coat of arms of the Bénédictine monastery  of Fecamp
Photograph courtesy of Barcadi-Martini
How Alexandre Le Grand created Bénédictine D.O.M,
Nature abhor vacuums and even more the French abhor the loss of a fabled liqueur.  The vacuum created by the destruction of the Bénédictine monastery in Fecamp and the consequent loss of the liqueur produced there was filled with a new tradition in 1863. Then, in 1863, a Fecamp wine merchant and businessman Alexandre Le Grand, Alexander the Great in English, claimed to have discovered in his family’s library a 16th century Bénédictine  manuscript with the recipe for  the liqueur made in the original Bénédictine monastery. The liqueur recreated from those documents was called Bénédictine D.O.M,  by Le Grand and the rest is history. 
Statue of Alexandre Le Grand at the Palais Bénédictine
Photograph courtesy of saigneurdeguerre

Alexandre Le Grand’s first large factory was built and opened in 1888; then in a case of arson it was burned down in 1892.   Le Grand had called his first  factory the Le Palais Bénédictine, the Benedictine Palace, and with  his product already successful he rebuilt his palace in an even grander styles and that is what is seen today.  The architect was Camille Albert. I am told that the architecture is a unique and wondrous combination of Gothic and Renaissance design; however, it has to be seen to be believed.
The Bénédictine monks have no relationship to
today's Bénédictine D.O.M. liqueur.
The Bénédictine monks have never had any relationship to Bénédictine D.O.M.; neither were they involved in the design of the factory that produces the liqueur.  The owners of the Bénédictine D.O.M liqueur are since 1992, part of the Bacardi-Martini group who make and market many of our favorite alcoholic drinks; the family of Alexandre Le Grand had sold their interest much earlier.
Stairs at the Palais Bénédictine,
Photograph courtesy of saigneurdeguerre
There is no other factory like Le Palais Bénédictine in the world, and probably will never be unless they start bottling something in Hogwarts! Today’s factory opened in 1900, two years after Alexandre had died; his family continued production of Bénédictine D.O.M  with enormous success for over sixty years. The factory is open all year round except from January 1 through 15 February, and you may visit for a small contribution to the factory’s maintenance and the cost of your testing their merchandise.
A dining hall in the Palais Bénédictine
Photograph courtesy of  Gauis Caecilius
When visiting the factory you may see some of the production process, explore their rooms and  their museum that apart from Bénédictine D.O.M.  history also has displays of  attempts  that have been made at faking the product.  Along with the story of the fakes the  museum has a unique mixed personal collection of paintings along with many ivory carvings  and some sculptures.  More importantly, from time to time the museum puts on engaging and distinct exhibitions of modern art and, of course, on the way out, you may purchase some of the palace’s products,
A ceiling in Le Palais Bénédictine
Photograph courtesy of hannibalgamer
Whether the recipe was the original monk’s formula or a 19th century creation, is not terribly relevant as the liqueur is excellent. Alexandre Le Grand stuck with Bénédictine D.O.M through thick and thin and he, and later his family, made it a worldwide success.  According to the Bénédictine D.O.M  web site,  www., a site that you will need to use to check the opening hours, as, like many places in France, they close for lunch! 

A window in Le Palais Bénédictine
Photograph courtesy of saigneurdeguerre
Alexandre did obtain the official consent of the Bénédictine order in Rome to use the name, as well as a permit to use the original coat of arms from  the Bénédictine monastery in Fécamp. Alexander Le Grand also included the motto of the Bénédictine order D.O.M on his liqueur’s name, D.O.M.  stands for Deo Optimo Maximo, in Latin, and means To God, the Good and the Great.
  The Benedictine Abbey of the Trinity in Fécamp;
When in the area you may also visit the Abbaye de la Trinité de Fécamp, the Benedictine Abbey of the Trinity in Fécamp; unlike the monastery it was not destroyed during the French revolution.  Its history and the monastery’s history are interrelated with Guillaume of Normandy who later became William the Conqueror and King of England; William’ the conqueror’s’ s  great- great- great … grand-daughter is Elisabeth II, the Queen of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Bénédictine Abbey of the Trinity in Fécamp
Photograph by sky#walker
The town of Fécamp, and the area around it  has many excellent restaurants dedicated to Norman cuisine; I can also confirm the existence of many excellent seafood restaurants. The larger restaurants’ menus include desserts with Bénédictine D.O.M. in the recipe. The town itself, is a beautiful small coastal town, nearly in the center of Normandy’s Atlantic coast; it has a casino, a place to park your yacht, and fetes of one form or another almost every month. Fécamp began as a fishing village and remains one with  locally caught fish on many menus; you can also buy fresh fish right off the fishing boats in the old port.

Fecamp Harbor
Photograph courtesy of JOG yacht racing.
If you visit in November join in the celebrations at Fecamp’s Foire aux Harengs, their Herring Fair.
Bryan G Newman
Behind the French Menu
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