Tuesday, 31 March 2015

It may be spring...

... but at the moment it's only spring one day at a time. We have had some lovely sunny days, and a few crisp mornings, but these have been interspersed by wet, windy and cold days. Luckily, I think countryside can look lovely, even in the middle of a squall.

Unfortunately, you don't get the full effect of the softness of this photo, because Google (who own blogger) have a deliberate policy of ruining people's photos by over saturating, over contrasting, and sharpening any photo posted to blogger. They call this "auto awesome" and there appears to be no way of avoiding it. (There are many pieces of advice on the internet as to how to do it, but they all involve signing up to Google+. I tried it, it doesn't work). They have been doing this since about two weeks before I stopped blogging regularly in 2013.

The original of this photo looks like this: (I can do this because I have loaded the photo to our website server, not blogger)

It's subtle, but obvious: especially when you compare the two side to side. (It's even more obvious when you click on the photo and view in full size)

So if you have a blog and your photos just don't look right, don't blame your camera or your computer, blame someone at Google with the tastes of a child who thinks that everything should look like a computer game.

To see what this really means, this picture is identical to our blog header - in fact, it is our blog header, but loaded into blogger instead of our own server.

You will notice that instead of the photo backgrounds being the same colour as the blog backgrounds the greens are much lighter, the slightly off white text is now white, and the grass is yellow, not green.

Even better, each time you load the photo, it gets auto-awfulled - here I have downloaded the above photo from blogger and reloaded it again to blogger.
I could go on (and on, and on...) until you are unable to tell what the photo is. But I won't.

I do not blog often, and when asked why that is, I say that it's because I just do not like blogger. This is just one of the causes of that dislike.
Note from Susan: For those who like to know these things, the village in the top photos is Faye le Vineuse and the photo is taken from a hill behind Braslou. The smoke on the left in the middle distance is from a roadside still. We chatted with the owner, who was distilling red wine into eau de vie in one still and fermented plum pulp into eau de prune in a second. Some large plastic rubbish bins full of fermented pear pulp were waiting in the wings. His clients were extremely camera shy and no photos were allowed unfortunately. But Elizabeth and I were allowed to climb the steps to reach the top of the alembic and sample the eau de prune as it was piped into the second chamber of the still. Many thanks to Colin and Elizabeth for introducing us to this walk around Braslou.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Limouzin freres: Cheese Making

Limouzin frères is a goat cheese dairy near us. They make prizewinning AOP Sainte Maure de Touraine cheese as well as several cheeses which don't have AOP status.The certification label AOP stands for Appellation d'Origine Protégée, and means that under European law the product can only be labelled with the certified name if it is made within the specified geographic area and using specified production methods. In the case of Sainte Maure de Touraine cheese the cheese must be a log shape, with a rye straw engraved with the maker's name inserted down the middle. The goats must be either the Alpine (brown) or Saanen (white) breed and eat a diet that is 75% made up of crops grown on the farm. If the cheese is to have the additional fermier (farmstead) certification it must be made from the milk from a single herd and be made on the same farm that the goats live and where they are milked.

The milking parlour.
The goats are milked in their cohorts of 40 animals and milking the whole herd of 300+ does on this farm takes an hour and a half to two hours morning and evening. The goat shed is immediately to the right of the photo (see our post on goat husbandry at the Limouzin farm) and the cheese making facility immediately to the left. These Alpine does give about 2 litres a day (Saanens give more milk but it is lower in fats and solids).

Milk standing in troughs to develop the culture and coagulate.
Milk from the parlour is pumped through to a holding tank in the cheese making facility. The tank holds two milkings, one evening's milk and the next morning's milk. The evening milk is cooled to 15°C and kept at that temperature overnight. The next morning more milk is added and the temperature raised to 23°C. The milk is transferred to open holding troughs on wheels and left in an anteroom for culturing and coagulation to develop over the next 24 hours. The culture is one that has developed on the farm and is not brought in.

Sainte Maure de Touraine cheese draining in moulds.
Once curd has formed the troughs will be wheeled into the next room and their contents carefully ladled into moulds, using a large scoop to fill the plastic log form, then topping up with a small scoop or ladle. This technique ensures the curd is not broken up too much.

Non-AOP heart shaped cheeses in their moulds.
The fresh cheeses will be left to drain in their moulds for some hours then tipped out to dry and be coated in ash or salt (or usually a mixture of the two) when firm enough. There is nothing special about the salt used but the ash must be pharmaceutical grade. Cheesemakers are not allowed to make their own as they would have in the old days. The whey, an inevitable by-product of cheesemaking, will be stored and periodically spread on the fields as fertilizer. Some goat dairies have an arrangement with a pig farmer and the whey is fed to the pigs, but often this is not practical because there may not be a nearby pork producer or the farm does not have suitable storage or transport options.

Fresh logs of Sainte Maure de Touraine.
These fresh logs of Sainte Maure de Touraine have been newly coated with an ash and salt mixture. This is gently rubbed on by hand and is quite a messy job. These ones have not yet had their rye straw inserted, but that is the next step. The straw is apparently to add a bit of rigidity to the soft log. Sometimes they are not ashed, but sold at this stage, very young, as fresh cheese.

Two to three day old cheeses in the drying room.
These cheeses will be ready for sale in two to three weeks. That's by far the most popular stage to eat this type of cheese, but they can be dried for longer, which will make them much stronger in flavour and eventually hard enough to grate. The older cheeses are not to everyone's taste. The younger ones are creamy, developing some chalkiness with age as they dry, then a really dry cheese that is more rubbery and very peppery in taste.

All the cheeses in the photos are the same apart from their shape, and this is what gives them different characteristics, as they dry at different rates and in different proportions. As well as the soft logs, pyramids, hearts, disks and bricks in the photos, the Limouzin dairy also makes a tomme style cheese, which is a hard cheese in the style of those made in the mountains.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

The Devils Marbles

The Devils Marbles in the Northern Territory of Australia is one of the most photogenic landscapes I have ever visited.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Limouzin freres: Goat Husbandry

Recently we have had clients from Michigan who are goat farmers and goat cheese producers. They asked us to design them a distinctly busman's holiday, with a strong focus on meeting French goat cheese producers. We spent a week with them visiting chateaux and lots and lots of cheese related visits to cheese affineurs, artisanal cheese makers, farmers, and a winery which just happens to be co-owned by a cheese merchant who does cheese and wine pairings.

Our very last farm visit was to Limouzin frères, between le Petit Pressigny and Preuilly sur Claise. The Limouzin family farm Alpine dairy goats, Blonde d'Aquitaine beef cattle and Percheron draft horses on 150 hectares.

The goat shed.
The Alpine dairy goat herd is around 350 animals, which is large for this area. They live in a spacious barn in cohorts of 40 does. The barn is very high roofed to aid ventilation.

The feed storage area.
The goats eat hay and a mixture of grains, virtually all of which, plus the straw for bedding, is grown on the farm. The Limouzins even make their own canola pellets by crushing the seeds to extract the oil and pelletising the 'waste'. The oil, which is too rich for goats, is sent to a piggery.

The feed mixer control panel. 
The farmer can dial up or down the percentage of triticale, oats, maize, mineral supplements, canola and soy pellets, depending on which cohort of goats the mixture is for. Some farms feed their goats a smaller percentage of grains and add haylage (the stuff in the big plastic bales) to the combination of feedstuffs. Silage is never fed to dairy goats as it is too strong and produces a noticeable and undesirable flavour in the milk.

The goats are fed their late afternoon grain mix.
The goats eat 2 - 2.5 kg of hay each per day and about 1.3 kg of grain mix each. The mixture of grains they get may vary depending on their age or whether they are pregnant, dry or milking. They spend all year inside, which is a typical husbandry management decision for this area, and get their hooves clipped twice a year. The farm is worked by 8 full time people and 3 apprentices in total, 1 - 2 of which are responsible for the care of the goats (with another 1 - 2 in the dairy). Having them shedded means the cohorts are easier and less time consuming to manage.

Dairy goat herds on pasture are relatively rare in the Touraine and farmers who choose to shed their goats seem slightly defensive when asked about it. In the old days goats were grazed on the hillsides too steep to plough, eating everything from herbs to saplings. There is general agreement that the quality of the cheese is better if the goats get to graze outside, and especially if they can browse in the forest or scrubby hillsides.

However goats become accustomed to living inside and if the farm wanted to change to a pasture based system they would have to acclimatise the herd over a period of years. One positive reason for shedding the goats is it reduces their susceptibility to intestinal worms, for which they have to be treated. The worming treatment can affect the milk and consumers are concerned about pesticide residues in foodstuff.

Goats eating a mixture of grains and hay.
All the goats are ear-tagged to provide traceability. The ear-tag goes on when they are just a day old, even on the male kids which are taken at 2 - 3 days old by a farmer from Deux-Sevrès who fattens them for meat.

Kids, about 2 - 3 weeks old.
February and March is the main kidding season, so there were lots of cute baby goats in the shed when we visited. Not all the goats give birth at this time though. Some are impregnated so they give birth in October, others are not impregnated at all and kept milking. The female kids are kept to replenish the herd. The males are mostly sold to the Deux-Sevrès farm for a couple of euros each, with a few kept and fattened by the Limouzins for meat or products such as terrine which they sell in their farm shop or La Charette, a shop run and supplied by a group of 13 local farmers at the agricultural high school in Tours.

Very young kids, under a week old, drinking milk.
The kids are removed from their mothers immediately they are born and never suckle. They are fed milk formula which is mixed by hand twice a day. The temperature is very important and the milk substitute must be at 45°C when mixed and 38°C when the kids drink it. If the temperature of the milk is wrong the kids get bloat and die. They are disbudded (their horns removed) at about 8 days old.

Not all the does need to get pregnant every year. The Limouzins are moving towards a 5 year cycle where the does are first impregnated when mature enough then milked continually for 5 years before being impregnated again. Once they are pregnant they are dried off so that they cease lactating for the last two months of pregnancy. When they give birth they are immediately back in the milking parlour (although their milk is discarded for the first 5 - 6 days). The 5 year cycle means that most does will only have 1 - 3 kids in their life. The oldest goat in the herd is 10 years old.