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The petite woman in the French scarf and smart glasses strolling McGraw Street is surely daydreaming of France. Joan Harkins often is. A Francophile from an Eastern Washington farming family, she studied abroad in the South of France during college and visited often across her adult life.
When she would return home to Magnolia from those trips, she’d search all of Seattle for the exquisite French ciders – “cidre” to the French - that she had come to love. The lightness, low-alcohol content, champagne-like effervescence and unforgettable taste. It was nearly impossible to find here.
There was only one solution for this entrepreneur and marketing executive: bring French cider here. Beauchamp Imports was born, along with its retail website Frenchcider.com.
“This is what I was meant to do,’’ Harkins said. “Everything I had done in my life, led me to this.”
Harkins always has been interested in natural eating, before it was fashionable. She grew up surrounded by farming. And she appreciates the role of food and drink in bringing people together. Cider connected it all.
With a business plan and a lot of pluck, Harkins began emailing to cideries in Normandy, in French. Many are operated by third- or fourth-generation families, and they did not know what to make of this Seattle woman who seemed to understand them and their passion for apples, pears and the time-honored process of making French cider and its cousins Calvados (distilled and aged cider) and poiré (pear cider). She visited these rural cider makers, dined with them and met their children and grandparents. They met her husband Jim, and her youngest son Wes. Only then did so many French cider makers agree to be her suppliers.
A little background: In France, the best ciders are made in especially proved regions, with apples grown just for this purpose. Normandy and Brittany are the best-known regions for growing the four types of cider apples (bitter, bitter-sweet, tart and sweet). Each region also has designated areas called AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) or AOP (appellation d’origine protégee) where very strict requirements concerning terroir, apple varieties, production methods and family know-how are observed by producers wishing to attain prestigious AOC/AOP status for their products.
Many of Beauchamp’s products have been awarded an AOC/AOP. And one of its producers just won the France’s highest civilian honor, the Knight’s Cross, Legion of Honor for her work establishing the newest AOC for cider on the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy.
The proof comes on your palate. Cider goes beautifully with seafood, sausage, paella and especially oysters. The complex, sophisticated, multi-faceted taste of French cider is surprisingly different from the taste of domestic ciders, which are often sweeter.
Getting the French cider here was an adventure for Harkins, to say the least. In November 2016, her first shipment was loaded in Le Havre, on the Normandy Coast. The container held 18 pallets and over 11,000 bottles of cider, poiré and Calvados from five different producers. It traveled on a cargo ship south to Portugal, where it changed ships and then crossed the Atlantic toward the Panama Canal. After passing through, the ship journeyed North along the west coast of Central America and California, then Oregon and finally Washington state.
Harkins watched the daily progress on a global maritime smartphone app as if the cargo was a relative traveling aboard the Queen Mary. Then, strangely, as the ship entered Puget Sound and passed Magnolia into the Port of Seattle in mid-December, there was an unusual 20-degree cold snap.
Would the temperature-controlled shipping container protect the fragile bottles along the final miles? For that matter, did the shipment survive the sweltering tropics and passage through the Panama Canal?
It did. Harkins gathered pre-orders while the merchandise was en route, and delivered the first bottles to Seattle restaurants. That was more than a year ago. Now her products – French cider, poiré and Calvados are in more than 40 Seattle restaurants and stores.
The restaurants include Mkt, L’Oursin, Agrodolce, The Boat Street Kitchen, Bateau and Aqua. Uwajimaya grocery stores carry Harkins’ products. Here in Magnolia, you can sip her La Chouette French Cider at Oliver’s Twist and get a bottle to go from the Green Market and Deli at Fisherman’s Terminal.
Thanks to Harkins, Pierre Huet Poiré has become a popular alternative for toasts at Seattle weddings. Local chefs – the professional kind, as well as Harkins’ husband Jim - are marinating barbeque ribs in her Marquis de Saint Loup Calvados.
“I’m making something available that’s really not that available,” Harkins said. “Americans are surprised to find out how approachable French cider is. And Calvados makes everyone happy.”
Reprinted with the permission of Meet Me In Magnolia publication. Written by Susan Feeney, Resident Photos by Nancy Dunbar, Resident
Discover Magnolia • February 2018
Pack your picnic with French Cider. Whether you’re on a city rooftop, lounging in the park, or watching the sunset from the water our products pair perfectly to elevate any picnic setting.
We currently distribute cider, poiré, Calvados, Armagnac and Cognac to fine restaurants, bars, clubs, wedding venues and specialty retailers in the states of WA, CA, NH and Maine through Beauchamp Imports, Inc. To request a tasting for your licensed establishment, or to inquire about distributing our products, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to sharing our portfolio of fine products with you!