Thursday, 9 April 2015

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

Lots of visitors to the Touraine Loire Valley would like to visit a goat dairy, sample some cheese, pet the goats and see the cheese being made. This can prove more difficult than it sounds if you are not familiar with the area and especially if you don't speak or at least read French. Even when visitors do manage to find and visit a farm, the experience is not always quite what they are expecting. Often farms do not have the resources to show visitors around and many places are unwilling to offer tastes even if they sell cheese from the farm shop.

I thought it might be useful to provide a list of cheese producers who in our recent experience are friendly, approachable and happy to receive visitors who want to do more than just buy cheese. All of these places are working farms or cheese dairies. Some charge a fee to visit, but many do not. In the latter case it is polite to buy some cheese at the end of the visit as an acknowledgement of the time they have generously given over to you.

 Dairy goats at Patrice Frémont's farm near Charnizay.
Fromagerie Moreau: Occupying a 19th century farm complex in Pontlevoy, they make AOP Selles sur Cher and AOP Sainte Maure de Touraine goat cheese, as well as a range of non-AOP goat cheese. There is a farm shop stocking local products such as terrines, preserves and wine. Visits can range from just popping in to the shop (which you don't need to book) to watching the cheesemaking and visiting the goats on a nearby farm (which does require booking and is not available on Mondays or at certain times of day). The fromagerie is owned and run by Jean Luc Bilien, who speaks English. I particularly like their Selles sur Cher and wrote about our visit here. Nearest chateau: Cheverny.

Ferme du Cabri au Lait: Situated near Sepmes, this farm makes organic AOP Sainte Maure de Touraine goat cheese. Owners Claire Proust and Sébastien Beaury don't come from a farming background, but the farm is the fullfilment of their dream to live on the land. From the beginning one of their aims has been to teach others about goats and goat cheese, so they run frequent open days, workshops and full guided tours of the farm followed by a tasting session. Their 'discovery' tour lasts about 1.5 hours and is usually on the weekend as they have other commitments during the week. They charge a small fee (€3-€4). Booking is essential. Claire speaks English. Nearest chateau: Azay le Rideau.

Goat cheese on display at the Fromagerie Moreau shop.
Ferme de la Fringale: Making AOP Valencay at Veuil this farm is in the process of transitioning from one generation to the next. Owners Chantal and Alain Chichery are handing over to a new young female cheesemaker, who speaks English. We have their cheese often, as they are friends of our mechanic and he frequently turns up with some. This is my favourite goats cheese. An appointment is advised if you want to visit the farm. Slow to respond to email, so book by phone. Nearest chateau: Valencay.

Limouzin freres: This is our local goat farm and cheese producer, making prizewinning AOP Sainte Maure de Touraine near le Petit Pressigny. They are fairly relaxed about impromptu visits, but I am sure making an appointment will always be appreciated. Slow to respond to emails so book by phone or in person at Preuilly market on Saturdays. One or two members of the family speaks English, but they are not involved with the goats so may not always be available. I wrote about our visit to the farm here and here. Their cheeses are also available in local supermarkets and at La Charrette, the farmers co-operative shop at the agricultural high school in Tours. Nearest chateau: Le Grand Pressigny (the museum of prehistory).

Scooping cheese into moulds at Fromagerie Moreau, photographed from their viewing passage.
Patrice Frémont: An AOP Valencay producer near Charnizay, his cheeses are very delicate in flavour and he is an absolute stickler for hygiene (the only farm we visited with a water purification unit, for example). He used to do a lot of visits, but in the last few years has really scaled it back. He is very friendly but doesn't speak English. Booking by phone is essential. Call at the house next door (that you will have passed on your way to the parking area) on arrival if he is not at the fromagerie.

Ferme du Carroire: The Vandooren family make a range of non-certified goat cheese, very popular in the area. The farm is situated in the Brenne, near Martizay. They are friendly and speak a little English. They have several open days a year, but can be visited outside of those days as well. Appointments preferred but probably not necessary. Nearest chateau: Azay le Ferron.

 Sainte Maure de Touraine goat cheese and 
Chateau Gaudrelle Brut Tendre sparkling wine.
Chateau Gaudrelle: Occupying caves right on the Quai de Loire in Rochecorbon, this boutique Vouvray wine estate offers wine and cheese pairings (€20/person, Selles sur Cher, Comté and Forme d'Ambert) or wine and local specialities (€8.50/person, Sainte Maure de Touraine and rillettes) tastings. Booking is essential. All staff speak English and one of the owners is also a highly respected cheesemonger. Tasting sessions last about an hour. Nearest chateau: Amboise.

 Goats cheese after a tasting session at Fromages du Moulin (Rodolphe le Meunier).
Loches Market: Twice a week, on Wednesday and Saturday mornings this popular produce and general street market has 4 local goats cheese producers, a cheese truck with cheese from all over France and a specialist mountain cheese seller, as well as sometimes others. The goat cheese producers include at least one whose goats are on pasture, not always indoors, and an organic producer. They are not necessarily AOP certified, but this does not mean the uncertified cheese is lower in quality, just that the producer is small enough not to want the extra expense and admin of certification and sells all his produce locally where his reputation is high. All the stalls are willing to offer samples and are very friendly and approachable, but there is an increasing disgruntlement amongst the stallholders against people who try and don't buy (especially if the taster praises the cheese and still doesn't buy...This is considered to be a very anglo thing to do). Only the mountain cheese seller speaks English. Nearest chateau: Loches.

Les Fromages du Moulin: Occupying an old mill complex in La Croix en Touraine this is not a cheese dairy but a cheese refining facility, where carefully selected cheeses from producers all over France are matured. The business is headed by the highly regarded affineur Rodolphe le Meunier, who speaks English (as do his wife and at least one other member of staff). He offers tours of the maturing cellars and tasting sessions of 6 cheeses plus local wine for a fee of €30 per person (minimum number 4 people). Booking is essential. Usually takes several days to respond to email. Rodolphe's cheeses can be sampled in a select group of local restaurants (eg Domaine de la Tortiniere, Auberge de Launay) as well as internationally (eg Bouley, New York City). He also has a shop in Les Halles (the covered market) in central Tours, run by his sister Caroline and they have a stall at several local markets (eg Bléré, Amboise, Chinon, Vouvray and Blois). His cheese can also be bought in LeClerc supermarkets. Nearest chateau: Chenonceau.

10 comments:

  1. Not sure about how many of our visitors(relations) even know the area produces goats cheese. Useful info though, Will tell my daughter and family when they are here in May.. Col

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    1. My impression is that British people aren't so impressed by French cheese as Americans are. I think it's a result of having so many excellent native British cheeses.

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  2. Limouzin Frères are also at Le Grand Pressigny Market on Thursdays, unless they are at a show. Pauline

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    1. Thanks for the additional info.

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  3. I don't think many North Americans know that the Loire Valley is goat cheese country. Or have ever tasted goat cheese.

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    1. I don't think they realise the Loire is goat cheese country either, but based on client feedback and questions on travel forums my impression is that many North Americans think of France as cheese heaven and can't wait to try cheeses everywhere they go. They are puzzled by the fact that a significant number of cheese sellers do not offer samples, even in markets, and it is difficult to find 'touristic education' cheese tasting sessions similar to wine tasting sessions (ie there are wine bars, estates and co-operatives that are set up for visits, but the same thing doesn't seem to exist for cheese). If they have children they want to visit a goat farm that is willing to act as a petting zoo too. They often don't notice the roadside signs to producers and if they do just roll up can be disappointed that the cheese selection is limited, no tasting, producers don't speak English or have time to value add the visit with a bit of commentary.

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  4. The other day I meant to make a comment on that cheesery in Pontlevoy, but I was derailed. This AOP is certainly very élastique. Sainte-Maure de Touraine — or Selles-sur-Cher for that matter — are certainly not next door to Pontlevoy — and vice versa — and they're not even in the same département. And not even in Touraine but in Orléanais or Berry!!! Why not making AOP Gruyère (or what it is called in Switzerland) and AOP Roquefort with goat milk [?]?

    Isn't that false advertizing?

    This series on goat cheese making is outstanding.

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    1. The geographical boundaries interested us too. The most surprising one we thought was Valencay cheese from Charnizay. The AOP does cover some basic terroir criteria though -- animal the milk comes from, source of feed, shape of mould. There could not be Roquefort from goat milk any more than there could be Sainte Maure de Touraine from sheep's milk. The truth of these central lowland cheeses is that they are all the same apart from the shape and they've all been made over this wide geographical area for generations. Even though it is the shapes that really distinguish them and does cause the cheese to mature differently, only a real expert could tell them apart in a genuine blind tasting where you can't see the shape of the cheese.

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    2. Exactly, Susan. It's the same cheese, basically, made into different shapes. The shape does change the way the cheese ages, but at certain points it's all the same thing. And it's all good. I think the Saint-Aignan area might be part of all three AOP zones: Valençay, Ste-Maure, and Selles. And then there are plenty of local goat cheese producers who don't bother with the AOP business. They sell their cheeses locally, and have a faithful customer base. It's the cheesemakers who want to "export" their cheeses to Paris and other regions who need the AOP designation, to make sure their far-away customers know that their cheeses are authentic and really from the region they claim to be from.

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    3. I agree. The AOP certification only matters outside the geographical region, as a guarantee of authenticity. Inside, there are many fine cheeses with no certification because the makers don't want the expense or administrative hassle and sell all their cheese locally.

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