This week end nearly 80 Ardèche farms held their annual open days, including ten in our immediate surroundings. This event, now in its 13th year, is designed particularly to attract people from the nearest large towns in the Rhone Valley and to offer them a day out to discover how the best local food is produced whilst simultaneously enjoying the wonderful landscapes of our area. It is always a big hit for families with small children.
Our first port of call was this very traditional goat farm, which produces three different types of cheese, all equally delicious, yoghurt, eggs and charcuterie. The children loved the baby goats and were enchanted to watch the birth of a kid. One of the parents (from the valley) asked whether the goats were given names. Only the females, came the reply. Why’s that, the perplexed papa enquired. Well, I suppose we could call the male kids Méchoui or Gigot (barbecue or roast), said Geraldine with a grin! She obviously loves her goats and was being partiularly attentive to the first-time mother, but there is no room for sentiment in this business.
Amongst the other local farms were several that we know well and who supply us with delicious chestnut products, fruit juices and fresh trout, but we were curious to visit two relatively recent arrivals and so set off to Chaupous to see Carole and Nicolas at work on their sheep farm.
Unfortunately we had forgotten the camera, so no pictures of this beautiful wooden farm and its dairy and cheese making facility. They have sixty ewes and make wonderful cheese, yoghurt and “délice de lait” a sort of sweetened condensed milk, flavoured with ginger, cardamom or other spices. Definitely delicious! Nicolas put a couple of his sheepdogs through their paces for us and Carole explained that in the winter, when the ewes are resting, they harvest the chestnuts from the trees on their land – 100kg each per day! They arrived here two years ago, and built their farm themselves from scratch. They have two small daughters and run the whole outfit themselves without any employees. They obviously love what they do and their energy is amazing. We left with a basketful of produce!
The next day we set off to les Cotes de Fontbonne. One of our walks passes this dairy farm and we buy their cheese at the market, but we had never visited them before. Once again, this couple built their farm from scratch, using timber frames and adobe made from their own soil. It is so beautifully designed to fit into the hillside and so perfectly constructed that there is no doubt that if Pierre-Yves ever got tired of making cheese, he could become an architect!
There was so much to enjoy here. Markus of course was delighted with the Swiss Brown cows and there were lots of dogs to keep Kate happy. There was an area in the hay barn where the kids could run riot and play hide and seek among the bales. There must have been around fifty people there with us and everyone was having a great afternoon.
We had a tour of the byre and dairy and Pierre-Yves explained how he makes his three different types of cheese. Next to his maturing cellar his wife Estelle has her own cellar where she makes aperitif wines flavoured with bitter orange, walnuts and so on. We tried her apple juice, made from the fruit from the old trees on their land and perfumed with geranium, which was absolutely delicious.
Oh and by the way, all this produce, as at the sheep farm, is certified organic.
We are truly fortunate to have so many dynamic producers of outstanding food right on our doorstep and we really enjoy introducing our walkers to all the local specialities.
We haven’t yet made it to the snail farm but that is the next on our list!