Monday, July 27, 2015

Visit to a goat farm in southern France

I am back in my sister's home region of the Aude in southern France and last night had some excellent goat cheeses made by a local producer, Xavier Tissot; Two years ago, when we were here, we went to his farm open day, which was very interesting, so today I thought I would republish the article I wrote then about it!

Visit to a local goat farm
We had a very interesting afternoon the other day visiting a local farm, Bourdichou, which specialises in one hundred percent organic goat cheese produced using traditional methods with goats fed entirely off the organic feed produced on the farm itself. Lucky goats--they get not only the usual kind of feed of barley, grass and sainfoin(a coarse hay type feed) but also high quality green lentils produced on the farm, of the Puy variety, of which the farm produces about 6 tonnes. (The lentils are also sold to humans and are delicious!)
As well as buying some excellent cheese and having a bit of a tour of the 30-strong goat herd, who were all very bright-eyed and bushy tailed and very friendly as they are handled a lot, we were also treated to a very interesting free 45 minute slide presentation by owner Xavier Tissot, who explained everything about the farm, how it's run, what crops are grown, what the programme of each day is, etc. This is an added bonus of a visit to the farm to buy cheese--call ahead of time and you can also assist at one of these presentations(best done in a group or family). By the way they have an excellent  and informative website with all contact details and info on how to get there,
The Bourdichou farm is situated in gorgeous rolling countryside in the Aude region, and consists of 102 hectares, supporting 30 high-yielding goats in constant milking. From those 30 goats, milked twice a day, the Tissots get 22,500 litres of milk per year, which converts into 34,700 cheeses a year, or around 120 a day. From the milk, the Tissots make only cheese, in different varieties: plain, flavoured with onions or rosemary, or oregano or thyme or lavender, and also rolled in pepper. (They also sell honey from their own hives as well as lentils). It's plain to see the goats are thriving; they are all extremely healthy, bright and curious and very productive. They also each have a name, as they are very much a part of the family and Xavier Tissot speaks of them with great affection and humour--one funny observation he made was, 'Goats are rather like adolescents; they can veer from endearing to very annoying in record time!' The goats are out in the fields grazing half the day (where they have to be watched)and half the day in their comfortable shed where they are given their hay, grain and lentils.
Of course it's a huge amount of work for the family for it is a never ending cycle. Market days are particularly heavy for the milking has to start at 4.30 am and does not finish till 7pm! Days where markets aren't happening are slightly less heavy--they get an extra hour's sleep and don't have to get up till 5.30 am! Then of course there is the crop work, which they do get outside help with, but still do most of it themselves.
The Tissots only do direct sales--from the farm gate, at local markets where they go several days a week, at special fairs and gastronomic events and occasionally from people who have been to the farm before ordering over the phone or online. They don't sell to restaurants, and most of their sales  are at markets. But if you are travelling in the region, I would urge you to go and visit the farm directly, for not only do you get the chance to buy the products at the very spot where they are made, but you also get an absorbing insight into how the life of a farm.
And the cheese? We bought a platter of it, about six or seven cheeses, in different varieties and it was all absolutely delightful, fresh, tasty and very very more-ish, with the platter being demolished very rapidly. And it was only 10 euros for the whole lot--an absolute steal! Highly recommended.