A few times each year, a few farms, vineyards and bee keepers in our region open their places to the public. This past Sunday was De ferme en ferme (from farm to farm) en Val de Dagne. All the open farms are located within about 45 minutes of Carcassonne, to the southeast. The announcement says:
We are happy to help you discover our crafts, our animals and our products. We all have the same passion, the same drive to offer products that are healthy and natural. You will be able to taste and discover the true products of the farm… Goat cheese, meat of goat and buffalo, pork sausages and meat, duck breast, foie gras, escargots, olives, olive oil, honey, jams, ice cream, sorbets, syrups, preserved plants, herbal teas, essential oils, wine, saffron, mushrooms…
We chose two farms: one with water buffalo, and the other with goats.
Domaine de la Bourdasse (La Bourdasso)
The proprietor, Eduardo Antonini, raises water buffalo. Water buffalo are typically found in Italy, and have been since Roman times. Antonini has brought them to Aude (our region of France). He sells buffalo meat, which he says is less fatty than beef and contains more protein; and buffalo milk, richer in fat and protein than cows’ milk. He also runs a noted Italian restaurant at the farm that features his products.
After about 20 minutes driving along a one-lane road through the Corbière mountains, we arrived at the farm. The parking lot was already full; we found a vineyard road instead.
On this Sunday, La Bourdasso offered a grilled lunch. We arrived a few minutes after noon, and there was already a line for the lunch plates. Families with kids, young couples, older couples, and even a few hipsters gathered at picnic tables to enjoy lunch. We bought our lunch ticket and a bottle of local organic red wine, and waited in line, downwind from the delicious grill smoke. The smiling server presented us with a plate of grilled buffalo sausage, grilled zucchini, salad, hearty bread, and a sweet cake somewhere between a scone, soda bread and a chocolate chip cookie.
It was a windy day, typical for our region. We fortunately found a couple chairs at a table inside the barn-like building. In one direction, one of the hipsters was working with a stainless steel vat of buffalo mozzarella cheese. In another direction, the bar had been turned into a charcuterie for buffalo meat (we bought a few rib steaks to try at home on the grill). The group of adults next to us were debating which farms to visit next.
Trying to be sensible, we didn’t drink the entire bottle of wine. After our lunch and finding nothing much else to experience, we headed back along the country road to our car. There was Mike, strolling the road, bottle in hand. Emblematic of our French life.
Les Genivrières: the goat farm of Matthieu Bouette
Further along the one-lane country road, we found this goat farm. (Mike drove with a certain amount of caution, which was appropriate since we came head-to-head to on-coming cars a few times. The country roads in this part of France are challenging because they are so narrow and there are deep drainage ditches immediately to each side of the roads, without any shoulders.)
After a walk from the parking area through the woods, full of early summer wild flowers, we found a buzz of activity. Beneath tents, vendors were selling goat cheese and meat. We could hear the festive families and visitors even before we could see them gathered around big tables beneath the trees.
Since we’d already had lunch, we bypassed the food and strolled up a pathway between stone walls. At the top, we found a goat enclosure with a single rather handsome goat. She was obviously ready to be milked. We saw an open door to the left and stepped in. In front of us was a raised walkway with a line of bowls. Just beyond the walkway was a throng of goats clamoring for feed. As we were puzzling out the line of bowls, a young man with an infant strapped to his chest came in, followed by a bundle of kids (the human kind). It was evident that this fellow was the owner of this farm, Matthieu Bouette. His youth shone brightly. We imagined a young family with their goat farm in the hills of Aude. He proceeded to explain how they led the goats onto the walkway, stopping them at the feeding bowls. While the goats munched, the farmers would milk them. The milk flowed through a pipe to the stone cheese-making building just below.
As we left the milking room, our host asked if we’d seen the kids yet. He pointed up the hill. We found a small building with four-month-old goats. The sign said that they are kept separate from the adult goats for a few months. Born in April, they would join their parents and other adults in July. Kids are cute! Some were munching enthusiastically on the hay in the feeder racks. Others were very interested in their human visitors. They obviously savored a head scratch and a face rub.
Many years ago, we visited a goat farm in California. Its pungent aroma stayed in our nostrils for quite a while after our visit. At this farm, the only smells were of hay, grass, greenery and fresh mud. Everything felt healthy and clean.
On our way out, we noticed a stand selling wine. They offered red, white and rosé wine in bottles and in BiBs. BiBs are “bag in box.” We have to confess that we have discovered quite a few pleasant wines available in BiBs. We call them weekday wines. We also think BiB really stands for “buzz in box.” They are tremendously cost-effective, and, when well chosen, are very nice wines. By cost-effective, I mean between two and four euros per bottle equivalent! We can buy a decent 5-liter BiB for less than what a mediocre glass of pinot cost us in a New York lunch restaurant last fall. Sorry to gloat, but here in a tremendous wine-producing region, we are so fortunate to enjoy delicious wines that are deliciously affordable.