Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Bize-Minervois happens to host the tower of Boussecos, a late Roman watchtower invaded by the Wisigoths, destroyed by the Arabs and used until the end of the Crusades to guard the valley. In other words, it hasn’t been used for more than four hundred years. Surprinsingly, a few walls still stand and from the trail we were on, the tower could clearly be identified.
After a rich lunch and a late start, we got to Bize-Minervois under a pouring rain around 4pm. Roughly 1,5 mile out of the village, as we drove on the gravel road, we couldn’t help cursing the bad July weather. We could have called it a day but preferred to stick it out.
Fortunately, the clouds cleared and we all went for it: my sister-in-law Marine and her 4-month old, my father Marc, my cousin Xavier and my two girls. The initial climb through pine trees and green oaks was treacherously steep but as we quickly reached a wide limestone wall, the trail levened out and the hike turned from kick-ass to easy.
As usual when hiking, my little girls got a reward as Nestle sweetened condensed milk. It’s a staple food of French children and mine are crazy for it. It’s squeezable sin in tubes. It’s on the way down that we discovered the tower of Boussecos and marvelled at its sturdy foundations.
As we neared the end of our hike, we glanced at our watches. 5.30pm already. Quick we got into the car and drove towards St Chinian, to catch the tail end of the goat milking at the Chevrerie de Combebelles, twenty minutes away.
The Chevrerie de Combebelles is a traditional farm that raises goats both for cheese and meat, but cheese is king without a doubt. One of their cheeses even won a national gold medal at the Salon de l’Agriculture (a hugely popular national farmers show held yearly in southern Paris).
Left and right we watched twenty goats (or doelings, nannies and dams as the right terms are) being vacuum milked by black rubber pumps as the goat herdess moaned about the weather and other moaning topics. My girls were even more fascinated when the three-feet high canisters were emptied out in seal-proof jugs, showing gallons of fresh goat milk.
Next door in the barn we got to see a young kid but as the herdess pointed out, “this one is for meat.” Us city people gulped but the woman went about her business as usual.
Inside the farm is a temperature-controlled room for the cheese-making part. Anne-Francoise, the “chevriere” or goat farmer, welcomed us with a big smile and explained how her folks farmed goats too thirty years before.
Then we got to the tasting part and I couldn’t believe how mild and melting the fresh cheeses were. Made with milk pumped four days earlier, they were creamy white and called for seconds. Next we proceeded to the “cindered” cheese, the aged cheese, the triangular cheese, the cork-shaped snacking cheeses and the camembert-style cheese.
As we were loving every bite, we even took home some strained curdled goat milk and milk fresh out of the goats an hour prior.
Now I thank the cheese lady from Beziers’ farmers market from the bottom of my heart. Had it not been for her, I would never have known this goat farm existed and could be visited. The Beziers farmers market is a whole other story but I’ll get into that later.
We took a last look at the breezy pastures around the farm and got back into the car, taking a bag full of goat milk products with us.