Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Verollet Farm in Preslette

It may seem strange to you but the smells associated with a goat farm, to my mind, are pretty close to perfect. The odor of a cow doesn't resonate with me very much. But goats on the other hand... I love everything about them.

I also loved rattling the latch and entering a goat barn in the hamlet of Preslette in the Savoie region this weekend. It starts muddy and cold, the expanse of grey sky pulling at you through leafless trees. Dogs with varying jobs to protect or herd these goats alert their entire world to your presence, their calls echoing through the valley. Then the door to the barn is open, and you enter a late winter enclave that smells sweet with the perfume of dried alfalfa and cozy animal warmth. Sun beams pierce in through late afternoon shadows and warm up all of the wood, reflections illuminating the animals. The goats stare at this wave of strange smelling strangers that float in on a breath of cool air, observing us all with short phrased questions in their eyes, bells chiming.

The goats are still inside for the winter, with the pasture land at our altitude still layered in patches with a hard crust of snow. Out on the slopes that get the best sun, the shoots have only just begun to penetrate the muddy ground. The melted snow saturates the earth, adding a happy squishing sound everywhere we go, a sound that whispers Spring Soon. Still some sun to come before the heat and light airs the sod enough to turn everything a deeper green.

In the meantime, the little kids born in January are 6 and 8 weeks old, curious, adorable little creatures, eager to nibble your sleeves or anything else they can practice chewing on. They're jumping up eager for a little stroke of their velvety muzzles. They're still drinking milk and get fed together, tails flapping cutely in a delightful little chorus.

What I loved most, though, was the milking. You have to feel a little sorry for these goats all swollen up with milk, and almost feel their relief too when they trot up in line to their station where they can have a little treat of ground corn and be ministered to. They get milked twice a day. The dog, named Douce, meaning "soft" in French, has been trained for specific jobs, to see them from point to point during the milking process. She will not stay with the goats in the fields when they go out, she has been trained to lead them there. She returns home where she is in charge of keeping things in order in the barn. She is proud of her work. Douce waits patiently in her place for them to finish with the milking and then trots along nudging them here and there. She does a thorough sweep of the entire barn to check that none went astray on the way back to their pens.

There are periods of relative commotion filled with shuffles, whistles and movement, followed by moments of calm waiting, random tinkling of their bells and a soft bleating here and there. The animals are happy to participate in these predictable cycles and engage in various levels of chitchat - See? This is our home. This is what we do. They are affectionate animals, and it seems that many have life stories to tell from their summers on the hills.

We all got a taste of the warm milk direct from the goats. It reminded me of something, of childhood, a very satisfying drink indeed. We purchased the cheese in three forms, some yogurt, and a bottle of the fresh raw milk to take home. The milk was excellent straight up by the large glass or in coffee. The cheeses were very good as well. In fact this visit just makes me want to get myself a weekly supply of everything they sell.

The Verrolet family farm sells four kinds of cheese, ranging from firm cream cheese to aged tomme. They sell yogurt and fresh raw milk on the farm as well. The cheeses and yogurts are sold at three weekly markets in the area. The tomme is only sold at certain times of the year, since the milk for that cheese comes from the animals that have been out in the pasture eating fresh greens. Their herd size ranges 80 to 100 animals, with a winter birthing in January. A number of the kids are sold off each year. They also have a handful of milking cows, but only make cheese from the goat milk.

We had to make bagels to do these goat products justice on Sunday morning.

Podcast coming soon.

Verollet, Marcelle
04 79 25 71 02

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Blogger sharon parquette nimtz said...

That was absolutely wonderful, Lucy. I've written about goats before, and you captured it. Love "short phrased questions in their eyes". Have tried to describe goats' eyes many times so that jumps out at me.
Good work!

2:20 PM, March 03, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The idea of having so many wonderful local farmers nearby and being able to experience a little slice of their day, not to mention delicious foods, sounds superb to me. We live in a tiny fishing community with not much in the way of farming around us but we get to experience fresh lobster just hauled from the traps hours beforehand,clams all sea-salty and ready to cook and fresh haddock fillets being sold door to door by a local fisherman. Sweet gifts from the sea. What I wouldn't give for lovely fresh cheese, though, we don't have that experience here.
Thank-you for your lovely writing and photos!

2:54 PM, March 03, 2009  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Thanks, you two.

9:41 PM, March 04, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a beautiful post filled with excellent pictures. i love goats and everything they give to us. what an adorable kid.

6:24 PM, March 15, 2009  
Blogger Jann said...

This was a great post! How fortunate you are to live so close to all these amazing food choices! I would love to visit this establishment and take such a tour!

1:45 PM, March 21, 2009  

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