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Cheese, Wine, Olives...... and Goats?

We participated in several group outings which Anthony and Andreas organized for us. I just know you are wondering about the goats so I'll start with them…

These goats speak French!

Up a winding road in the hills near Saint Jean de Minervois is a small farm of stone/tile, brick & plaster/tile, wood/metal buildings which house Jean Paul, a shop and goats (~100 or so!) with a lyrical name, Sarrazo. It is not a place that you see 'in passing'; even if you are looking for it you might miss it! It is 'tucked away' in the hills, hidden from easy view by the trees, accessible by a bumpy dirt road.

Sarrazo

Jean-Paul greeted us and led us further down the hill on a narrow footpath to the goat barn. There we were greeted by the friendly and curious goats. They stared at us, we stared at them, they wondered if we were there to pet them, we wondered if they were really goats or big puppy dogs in disguise… The large ram with his feet planted squarely in the middle of his harem and a frankly suspicious look in his eyes that said, "I'm watching you and I'm a tough cookie!", however, left me in no doubt that that he was no gentle pet!

Angora Goats

Jean-Paul told us about goat farming - it was obvious that he had a great deal of affection for his charges. We too were charmed by the curly haired goats with their funny faces and loved the soft mohair garments woven from their wool. Throws, scarves, shawls, hats and mittens of a multitude of rich beautiful colors with lovely sounding names - sable, bleu roy, miel, amandi, sienna, rouge hermes, tournesol.

I was curious about one thing though. What language did the goats 'speak', French or German? It turns out that they speak- you guessed it- French!

 But where are the pimentos?!

In Bize, surrounded by an olive grove is the Cooperative Oleicole L'Oulibo. We were given a mini tour (the orchard, the warehouse, the processing plant) and an 'olive tasting' (several dishes of different flavors of black and green olives were set out for us (natural, spicy, different herbs)). We learned that the Romans who used olive oil for oil lamps and cosmetics as well as cooking brought the olive tree to the region. A tree takes about 8 years for the fruit to be 'good' but the trees can live for many years (a 3000 year old olive tree is known to exist!). The olives are hand picked, the trees are pruned close to the earth so that they will spread out and are kept sparse to 'let the birds fly through'.


Group Picture

The shop revealed a myriad of goods that can be made from olives (different 'flavors' of olives and olive oils, jellies, soap, tapenandes) and olive wood (bowls, spoons, hotplates) plus olive dishes, olive oil flasks etc. For someone who was only familiar with two kinds of olives - green with pimentos (no pimentos in France!) and black (pitted or un-), I will never be the same again (olive-appreciation-wise…).

Wine, wine, everywhere and LOTS of it to drink!

What would a trip to France be without a wine tasting at a winery? Andreas and Anthony set up a wonderful one for us at La Tuilerie in La Liviniere. Kat, an Australian whose husband Benjamin is a wine maker at the winery, gave us a tour of the old brick foundry which the winery reconstructed and now houses the 'reception area'. We also got to see an area where wine casks were stacked and the wine inside was 'awaiting its time'.

Barrels ageing at La Liviniere

Terroir (taste of the land). It's important when it comes to wine. It is the soil of the vineyards and more - the climate, the water, the vegetation, the sunlight, and the very air that the soil comes in contact with, the history, the geology, the chemistry. Perhaps I am overstating it, but wine folk are very enthusiastic about it…

Bottles on the wall

Kat showed us the soils of three vineyards - the dark brown soil of Domaine Begude, the light brown soil of the Chateau Maris and the red soil of Chateau Combebelle et Domaine Montahuc. Kat old us "Benjamin thinks the terroir is good here." We looked solemnly at the 'soil displays' and nodded (no one wanting to appear as mystified by all this as we actually were…). Oh, but the wine! THAT we could appreciate! Whites, Roses, Reds. My favorite? Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois Domaine De Montahuc - a sweet white wine. Lovely…

 Round and round and round we go!

You are going to think I'm crazy (sigh, you really are…) but one of the most thrilling sights I saw on this trip were (a whole lot of!) rounds of white cheese. I know…"What about those elaborately decorated cathedrals soaring high above your head, and the medieval castles and fortresses with their echoes of royalty and knights and bloody battles, and the impressive ancient Roman feats of engineering (aqueducts) and architecture (coliseum)?" you ask (except I haven't yet described all those sights yet, I thought I would put a teaser in…). "Yes, BUT", I answer "I've seen those sorts of sights on other trips, I've NEVER seen hundreds and hundreds of cheeses lined up on shelves as far as you can see, disappearing into the dark nether-reaches of "les Caves"! THRILLING (really!). You've got to see it to believe it…

Roquefort Caves

Roquefort, the home of the famous Roquefort cheese, is a small town (796 inhabitants) built along the base of the Combalou Plateau, through which are faults or 'fleurines'. Hollowed out in the rocks in story upon story are caves ventilated by the fleurines and in which the white and greenish-blue cheese slowly matures.

It all began 'once upon at time' when a young shepherd who was guarding his sheep in a Combalou cave, spied a shepherdess and leaving his meal of bread and cheese behind, followed her (what happened after he caught up with her is NOT explained…). Anyway, when he returned he discovered his cheese was covered with blue and green veins. He tasted it (good grief!) and cried out "this is a miracle!" This is "The Legend".

It was a full day outing up to Roquefort. We drove the highways and superhighways from St. Chinian: east past Bezier; north through Clermont-l'Herault, Lodeve, La Cavalerie; west to Lauras and up into the hills to Roquefort and the Societe Caves. We were an hour or so late though and had missed the tour in English. But even though the tour guide spoke French it couldn't have mattered less. We knew the legend from a handout and so the slide explaining it and showed against the cave walls was still fun to watch; we peered down a cave to see the greenish Penicillium growing on the dank walls and when we got to the caves, I stopped paying attention to the guide altogether. I was busy looking at the sight before me. Cheeses, cheeses and more cheeses, round and white and luminous. Wow! I wouldn't have missed it for anything!!!

Recipes from the "Societe" (changed just a bit…)

Avocado Mousse with Roquefort - Cut avocados in half, scoop out the flesh, mash with lemon juice, blend in equal amts of cheese and whipped cream and pile in the avocados and serve.

Fillet Steaks with Roquefort butter - Mix equal amts of butter and cheese. Grill steaks to taste; serve with the 'butter'.

Apples stuffed with walnut and Roquefort cream - Peel apples and core, cut in half and poach for 2-3 minutes. Put in ovenproof dish. Blend together equal amts of sugar, cheese, butter, and chopped walnuts (plus some cognac if you'd like). Stuff the apples and microwave 3-4 minutes, dribble with honey and serve.

 Bibliography

La Tuilerie brochure
Cooperative Oleicole L'Oulibo brochure (www.epicuria.fr/oulibo/)
Sarrazo Le Mohair des Fermes de France brochure
City Map Roquefort
Societe Visite des Caves brochure
Societe 15 Recipes booklet

 

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