Throughout France, Southern Touraine is known for its goat’s cheese, generally available in either fresh, semi-hard or hard consistencies, and often rolled in salt and pine ash. There are goat farms everywhere, but one of the more interesting is La Ferme du Cabri au Lait near Sepmes, run by Sébastien Beaury and Claire Proust – not least because their goats are fed organic grain and allowed to roam free in a green meadow, rather than caged up in a barn. There are some 100 of the latter, of the hardy Alpine Chamois variety, and their milk is used to produce faisselle, cylindrical Sainte Maure cheese, round petit Cabri cheese, goat yoghurt and confiture de lait.
Both Sébastien and Claire are neo-ruralists, having moved from the town to the country in 2009. They’ve produced a thriving affair, but still have to hold down regular jobs to keep the goat business running. Because of time restrictions, the goats are only milked once a day, in the morning, and the small production is sold through local organic cooperatives. When we visited, they had no produce left to sell. They also grow aromatic and medicinal plants. The goats’ eyes have eerie horizontal, rectangular slit-shaped pupils, giving them depth perception in their peripheral vision – 320 degrees as opposed to the 120 degrees of human vision – to help avoid predators. Predators, on the other hand, like certain cats, have vertical-slit pupils which are adapted to homing in on a prey. Mingling with them in the meadow is a moving experience, since they love to rub up alongside people. « My Caroll raincoat! » wailed one young woman in our group as a goat pushed its nose into her raincoat pocket, then pulled out the lining and starting chewing on it.
Goat’s cheese is famously low in fat and a healthy option, but production does have its inhumane side. When the kids are born, the male goats are taken off and butchered, partly for meat – though not common fare on the menu in France – and partly for the rennet that is extracted from their stomachs. The latter is bottled and used in the cheese making to accelerate coagulation and separate curds and whey after the starter culture is added to the milk. In other words, your innocent little goat’s cheese is the product of mass infanticide, not to mention an unashamedly sexist cull. Vegetable rennet exists, but is less popular because less effective, and genetically engineered animal rennet exists too, involving no harm to baby animals. However, when you buy your goat’s cheese, the label rarely tells you what kind of rennet has been used. In a week in which the WHO has declared processed meat a carcinogen, the question of man’s inhumanity to animals is once again being kicked around, and dairy production should not be overlooked.
Like 13% of the young farmers in Touraine, Sébastien and Claire have taken the organic road. They have also opened their doors to visitors, being a “ferme pédagogique”. If you’re in the area, arrange a visit!