Letter from Bouisse - Goats Cheese

When in Bouisse I always enjoy visiting Marion at La Coumeto where I sip tea at the huge oak table in the kitchen and listen to the latest snippets of news and stories from the village. Imagine my delight when I was offered a taste of a delicately flavoured, thick snowy white, creamy disc of goat’s milk cheese which I simply spread on fresh bread.

Some months ago I heard that Huguet, one of the ladies in the village, was going to produce cheese from her own goat’s milk but, sadly when we asked, this wasn’t so. Since our Christmas visit things had obviously changed, so with a rather impolite and hurried good-bye to Marion I dashed to pound on the door of Huguet – I thought that if I wasted a minute everything would disappear!

Huguet or, the Egg Lady, as we called her was one of the first people we met in Bouisse: she sells eggs and poultry, though nothing ordinary -they have the largest deepest yellow yolks that I have ever seen and the freshest chickens I have ever cooked and eaten – though oven ready for les anglaise, of course! Actually, Huguet, with the energy of someone a fraction of her years, is often difficult to find between caring for grandchildren, tending the vegetable garden, rearing poultry, rabbits, sheep and goats and, was responsible for the sweetie extravaganza at the Carnival.

Though part of France and firmly French speaking, the language here is a little different to Larousse French – the version we learn at classes. French in Bouisse has an Occitan bias which my husband thinks that, once accustomed, this is actually easier to understand than the Parisian French which tends to ‘swallow’ many of the sounds though perhaps he does keep this opinion to himself when he is sat behind his office desk in Paris! The result of this means that for most of my time in Bouisse, no one really has any idea what I’m talking about as neither my Larousse or Bouisse French could be described as perfect, so I often have to take my children to translate. As tiring as this can be, today it didn’t matter – cheese was at stake.

Accompanied by one of my translators, my daughter, I went to visit to ask if it would be possible to watch the production of the next batch of cheese. Huguet disappeared and, without hesitaion, generously returned with a creamy disc of cheese and handed it to me – it took a couple of goes (my daughter said this was normal, as she usually assumed we were there to buy eggs?) then we were finally understood and with a beaming smile were invited to see the rack of fresh draining cheeses. What I hadn’t anticipated was an invitation to watch the goats being milked the following morning after which I could watch the fresh milk being turned into cheese. I was to be ready between 9.30 & 10 am, and probably best to bring Jessica, my daughter too.

We woke to a still, warm, cloud free April morning. Promptly at 9am Huguet and her husband Francois arrived in their small white Citroen van. Jessica and I piled into the back next to the animal feed ready to bump along the country tracks to the field, followed all the way (there and back) by their black and white dog.

The goats and sheep immediately spotted us, or rather the food, which arrives every morning for their daily milking ritual. Hovering on the perimeter of the group was a sheep with her shaky 2 day old lamb – I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to spend an hour in the morning. The luscious rolling hills of High Corbiere where time just evaporates at the expense of patient activity, the outside world simply isn’t important nor exists.

The livestock are reared for consumption – the sheep for meat and the goats for milk. The younger sheep will be mature for summer slaughter, though surprisingly their fleeces aren’t able to be sold so just thrown away - In past times fleeces were used to fill mattresses but, alas there is no demand today.

The elder goats are about 5 years old and some are suckling young. On average Huget and Francoise reap about 5 litres of milk per day, all by hand. Each goat was tethered and fed whilst the process of milking was carried out, though this was certainly a two person job: Francois, the Artisan and Huguet wielding a stick to gently tap away the rest of the greedy mouths – their turn will arrive soon. I did try to milk a goat, holding tightly and squeezing the warm velvety teat but extracted not a drop!The whole process took about 40 minutes, the finale watching all the animals being fed. Before we bumped our way homewards I was offered a taste of the still warm milk – I expected an acidic and perhaps sour flavour and was amazed by its delicate creaminess. Delicious and what a treat! Francois drove us home to begin the cheese making whilst he was off to feed the rabbits.

Huguet's Goats Milk Cheese

It really is difficult to find the vocabulary to describe the silky, velvety taste of this cheese. My advice when visiting Bouisse is to find Huguet and persuade her to sell one to you then find a shady spot, open a cold bottle of Chardonnay wine and enjoy the tranquillity.

1. With the freshest possible goats milk, pass it through a 'nonwoven' filter paper which will remove any impurities.

2. Pour the filtered milk into a large pan and heat to 20 degrees C, holding the temperature for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add 2 drops of rennet (Huget used Maret) per litre of milk.

3. Rest the milk in a cool place for 24 hours when they

curds and whey will separate.

4. Using a sieve, drain the curds from the whey: At this stage it is possible to use as either a yoghurt or fromage frais - add a little sugar and fruit for a breakfast treat or serve as dessert.

Alternatively, strain in a mould to produce a soft cheese. After about 24 hours the cheese is ready to be tipped out of the mould then eaten though the longer the cheese is stored the dryer the consistency and the stronger the flavour. Store on racks in a cool dry place.

Goats Cheese, Tomato & Walnut Salad

Crumble the goats cheese and toastd walnuts over sliced tomatoes then swirl with fruity olive oil. Serve with crusty bread.

Goats Cheese with Walnuts & Honey

Drizzle a flowery honey over the cheese and sprinkle with crumbled walnuts. Spread on crackers or fresh bread.