I’ve been traveling so much this fall, I can scarcely download the photos from my camera before I’m packing my bags once again. As a result, these pictures from St-Etienne — about 40 miles southwest of Lyon, in the Rhône-Alpes region — are a few weeks old and the gentle sunshine that diffuses them seems like a pleasant but distant memory. My memories of that weekend, however, are strong and sharp — a wonderful few days filled with delightful friends, flea markets, and lots of fromage. Here are four special cheese experiences:
We stayed at the home of friendly fromage fans who ended every meal with a cheese board — isn’t it gorgeous? Notable cheeses include the tall wedge (at one o’clock), a local blue cheese called the Fourme de Montbrison that’s cut in slices across the top. Also, Munster (eight o’clock), which I brought from Alsace. It was so stinky it got its own knife.
At the neighborhood market, our friends introduced me to this country cheese. It’s a rough-and-ready specimin dusted with cirons,or artisons, minute mites that age the crust, leaving the center creamy. Back in our hosts’ kitchen, we brushed them off the cheese and into a glass bowl, peering at the moving crumbs via a magnifying glass. It was totally absorbing and a little creepy, too.
One day, we lunched at a former farmhouse, now a rustic restaurant. I tucked into this gloriously cheesy tartiflette, a casserole of sliced potatoes larded with ham, cream, and reblochon cheese, baked until golden and melty. You can’t see it, but underneath the gratin dish was a heated stone tile that cleverly kept the dish hot until I’d eaten my fill.
After a beautiful walk through landscape fringed with heather and juniper bushes, we stopped at a goat farm. A goat farm! Because when you live in the French countryside, that’s the type of thing you find on the way home!
I loved learning about the cheese-making process, even if I do find goats’ eyes a little satanic. Inside the atelier, there were chèvres in all ages and stages, from the very fresh (my favorite), to further along in the affinage process.
When we finally left, the sky was dark and we were loaded down like little pack ponies. And, as it turns out, goat cheese was the perfect thing to bring back to Paris, a fragrant souvenir of a beautiful, fromage-filled weekend.
La Ferme du Champ
42660 St-Régis du Coin
tel: 04 77 51 87 32