First things first – la vache qui rit – I love this picture because she IS the laughing cow with her ostentatious earrings jangling.
That out of my system I can be serious. Or thereabouts. France is synonymous with Cheese as she is with Wine (and snails and frogs legs but lets not go there …) and it happens that the two go hand in hand. It also happens that I have many conversations with French people who laugh when I tell them that I had a Cheese Shop in England (Berkshire – specifically Streatley on Thames). They say ‘What did you sell? Sheedaah?’ … I produce a book. A book written by my father-in-law. Patrick Rance – Its called simply The French Cheese Book, to be frank I can’t slip it in my handbag as it gives detailed descriptions and histories of over 790 cheeses across France. It is an opus magni by any standards. It was the sequel to The Great British Cheese Book, he being the father and protector of British Cheese – the reason you can buy all that good stuff all over the UK now and have been able to for over 25 years. But he was a Francophile – actually his ancestors were Hugeunots (de Rance) which may have helped the process despite the fact that he, in fact, was raised the son of a vicar, in the East End of London. If you have a moment, listen to a passionate man who is now considered to be an ‘Food Icon’...its archived so like any archaeologist you have to dig, just a bit …. it’s worth it, well I think so – I loved that man – he and his wife, Janet were an utter inspiration to me and to my girls who were variously called The Cheesy Babies throughout their pre-school years ….
I am also, as it happens a Francophile who married another – it helps. And I am, we are, unashamed in our love of French Stuff. Here in Cantal we have the ubiquitous Cantal and St Nectaire and Bleu D’Auvergne and Salers and across the Auvergne I can buy Bleu des Causses, Forme D’Ambert, Gaperon and a plethora of others. Not just Vache (lait cru) but Goat – they call the little disques cabecou and actually some brebis too. These are my favourites and one day I intend to square the circle by having some sheep which my beloved Two Brains and I will will tend and allow to graze free-range and milk (this is where the friends of my husband are actually holding their breath and assuming I am more than half crazy) and we will make our own soft creamy brebis cheese with the help of those we have met who know how. The beautious Salers cow in the picture gives the milk that most of those names are made from. I shall write of them all if only as excuse to eat them all. When I go to my local market on a Thursday morning I hope upon hope that the lady with the goats will be there from an un-named bit near Ydes (less than 10 km from here – no different from any other village) and my local U (the equivalent of Spa in the UK) sells cheese – typically St Nectaire, Salers or Cantal and Blue D’Auvergne and a soft discs of cabicou collected from the most local farmers and put in the little cold cabinet next to the till. When its gone its gone. I will visit all and every of them with the delight and squeals of my father in law ringing in my ears – or his distaste and despair because a cheese has been plagiarised and pillaged – he was, you see truly passionnant. I try to follow and it becomes easy when I am allowed into a dairy such as that of Christine to watch the transformation of her cows (Salers) milk into St Nectaire. La Vache Qui Rit indeed … these babies are VERY content and very happy with the process.