The gremlins were the weather goblins, who made last weekend a complete washout. Sunday 20th June was a journée du patrimoine, when monuments and places of historic interest open their doors to the public. Despite the weather, or maybe because of it, there seems to have been a good turnout.
Round here, the focus is on mills – both windmills and watermills. The River Bonnette, which rises somewhere around Saint-Projet and joins the Aveyron at Saint-Antonin Noble Val, has one of the highest concentrations of watermills in the region. There is one every few hundred metres. Some have been completely restored and are now bijou residences, others have seen better days.
Last Sunday, we decided to visit the Moulin de Vignasse near Loze on the upper stretches of the Bonnette, where Marie-Ange and Benoît Chamerois had an open day. Having feared that there would be only a handful of visitors owing to the weather (windy and cool with showers), we had difficulty finding a parking space in the narrow lane on which their watermill is set.
Originally from Champagne, the Chamerois bought the mill several years ago and established a goat farm. They now manufacture goats’ cheese, which they sell at the local markets and at the farm itself. Around 2/3 of their cheese is Rocamadour AOC while the rest is Cabecou d’Antan Label Rouge. In addition to the traditional goats’ cheese, Marie-Ange also rolls some of the cheeses in herbs and flavourings, such as chives, onions, poppy and sesame seeds and curry powder. I am particularly partial to the one she calls ‘Le Jardin’, coated with a variety of herbs and shallots. See the recipe below for a salad of goats’ cheese and broad beans.
Benoît does the market at Saint-Antonin while Marie-Ange has a stall at the Caylus markets on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Round and dimpled, Marie-Ange personifies her name. Always smiling angelically, never harassed – even when the queue lengthens – she always has time to chat and explain how they make the cheeses. It’s no good being in a hurry; you just have to wait your turn.
Last Sunday, you could visit the goats in their stalls or in the field. Friendly and curious, they nibbled our fingers and thrust hopeful noses into our pockets searching for treats. The Chamerois milk the goats twice a day and each nanny produces 2-6 litres of milk, depending on the animal and on the stage of lactation. One with a very heavy udder was already standing on the ramp leading to the milking parlour and butting the door impatiently.
Two billy goats reposed in a separate pen. According to the notice, they ‘work’ for only three weeks a year and relax the rest of the time. They looked pretty contented, I must say, but then they ought to with those working conditions.
Marie-Ange was doing a roaring trade in cheese while Benoît got the milling equipment going and gave a demonstration of how grain was milled formerly. We crowded into the mill-room beneath the house, where there was also an exhibition of ancient farming implements. You could buy organic flour milled on the premises.
We strolled back to the car along the banks of the Bonnette. Normally a placid, purling stream, the rains of the previous few days had swelled it into a raging, muddy torrent the colour of milk chocolate. Marie-Ange had been afraid that it would overflow and flood the mill house but, this time, it remained sagely between its banks.
2021 update: the Chamerois have sold up, but I am informed that the new owners will continue to make goat’s cheese. More info to follow.
Recipe: salad of broad beans and goats’ cheese (serves 6)
2.5 kg young broad beans in the pods
2 or 3 goats’ cheeses, preferably cabecou and must be hard, chopped in small dice
Salad leaves, for example rocket
1 bunch fresh mint, leaves picked from stalks
Salad dressing made with Balsamic vinegar and olive oil
Pod the beans and blanch the larger ones in salted water for 3 minutes. Drain and peel off the skins (I love doing this, but it’s not a job for when you’re in a rush). Put all the beans in a bowl and carefully mix in the salad dressing. Put the salad leaves and mint in a large bowl. Add the dressed beans and then add the cheese on top. Pour over a little extra dressing.
Very good as a summery starter, served with crusty bread.
Copyright © 2010 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved