Goats and kids, cheese and meat

1-garrigue

 

One evening a couple of days ago we drove a few kilometres up into the rocky, garrigue-covered hills to the goat farm at Mas Rolland to buy cheese and to see the newborn kids. The farm has a website – here – in French, explaining the way they work, grazing the goats naturally in the open countryside and making cheese every day. By chance, a couple of late kids had been born that afternoon. Unlike the slightly older ones that were scampering all over the place, trying to eat our clothes and moving so fast that all my shots of them were a blur in the low light of the shed, these ones kept still, resting after the shock, perhaps, of birth, in a plastic box.

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Most of the adult goats were being milked or waiting to be milked:

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We bought some cheeses, having already bought a quarter of a kid from the farm at the butcher’s shop in Roujan. The kids look lovely, I know, but realistically they exist only to cause the adult goats to produce milk for cheese-making. Many of the female kids are kept to replenish the herd, or sold to others who want to build up a herd, but for most of the males life is short. This is the reality of all dairy farming – sheep, cows and goats must produce offspring which are surplus to the requirements of the herd and, therefore, are eaten. We roasted the quarter kid for lunch today. It weighed about 1.25 kilo and took about an hour to cook uncovered in a hot oven. We put it on a bed of wild thyme, picked in the hills near the village, with garlic, salt, pepper, tomato purée and white wine. Half way through the cooking time we added some parboiled pieces of carrot, potato and pumpkin, so that it was a one-pot meal.

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While we were waiting for the meat to cook we had an apéritif: Cava, olives, fuet and chorizo.

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And then the main course was ready, deliciously fragrant with the thyme and garlic, nice tender meat and a delicious sauce made from the juices, wine and tomato.

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And the cheese course? A selection of goats’ cheeses: tomme, a hard, matured cheese, demi-frais, a couple of days old, and cendré, rolled in ashes, a style that I assume was developed for keeping the cheeses fresh, and which gives a lovely flavour to the cheese.

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Just for the record, yesterday we planted out our cebas – sweet onions from Lézignan-la-Cèbe.

A tale of three cities

As well as the joys of celebrating a very special day and spending time with family and friends in Wales and England, we ate very well indeed while we were away. While we were in York we had lunch at the fantastic Le Lenghe Italian restaurant where the beams were lined with panettone:

6 panettone beams

In Cardiff we shopped for ingredients for Sunday lunch at the Riverside farmers’ market, almost underneath the imposing Millennium rugby stadium.

1 cardiff - Riverside market

There are so many different flavours here, including a stall selling elderflower cordial to warm us on a cold morning, Taste of Persia baklava, and a meat stall where we bought a delicious farmyard chicken – ‘like the chicken of thirty years ago’, said the stallholder (and it reminded us of the best chicken still available in the Languedoc today as well). There were cheeses – the wonderful Teifi Cheese, made near where we used to live in the Teifi Valley and still going strong, luckily, and Cothi Valley goats’ cheeses that were as good as those from Mas Rolland even!

2 Teifi cheeses

4 Cothi valley goats' cheeses

And there was a very varied range of vegetarian and vegan burgers and pies, including very pretty round balls of beetroot which tempted even me, and I don’t like beetroot much.

3 vegetarian burgers

And, while still in Cardiff, I must mention the tasting menu we all enjoyed so much at Bully’s restaurant to celebrate our daughter’s wedding. I can’t really do justice to the experience here in a few words, but apart from the joyous occasion it was a gastronomic experience unlike any other I’ve had, with each course accompanied by a different carefully chosen wine and an unpretentious explanation from the owner, Russell Bullimore. Most of the dishes would be too complicated for us even to think of making at home (this is the sign of a special meal for me) but something we will try is their way with goats’ cheese which came as part of the cheese course. A fairly fresh goats’ cheese had been dressed with black pepper, olive oil and honey and then a sprig of rosemary which was then burnt with a blow torch just before serving. It gave the cheese a wonderful smokey flavour.

7 fromage

We spent the last night of our trip with our son in Fulham and once again were amazed by the variety of foods and flavours available just at the end of his road. One delight was this wall of spices:

5 wall of spices

Even though our bags were already full, we managed to fit in some packets of spices that are hard to find in the Languedoc. And for our last supper on that side of the Channel we found Palestinian felafel, merguez sausages, little aubergines and green peppers, ful medames, Turkish grape syrup to mix with tahini, and more, and flat breads to dip into it all. It’s nice to be home again, but we certainly haven’t missed good food while we’ve been away!

What a waste!

According to a recently published report by the UK Institute of Mechanical Engineers a huge proportion of the world’s food – between 30 and 50 per cent – is thrown away as waste. Some crops are not even harvested because they do not meet the exacting demands for appearance (rather than flavour) of the big supermarkets. Up to half of all food bought in the US and western Europe is thrown away – a ridiculous effect of affluence and changed shopping behaviour.

I find these figures shocking. Lo Jardinièr and I rarely throw away any food at all. This is partly because we are lucky to have a weekly market and a very good épicerie in the village, within a couple of minutes’ walk from our house. This means that we shop for food every day, buying good quality food quickly and easily without having to do a big weekly shop at a supermarket which almost always leads to waste because it’s impossible to know what you’re going to need for a whole week and to plan to use all the ingredients that supermarket design tempts you to buy. Sadly, if people don’t use their local shops then they close, leaving the wasteland of out-of-town hypermarkets and car parks which are becoming common in all large and even smaller towns across western Europe. There are all kinds of issues involved here to do with planning, food quality and consumer expectations especially, but policies and practices have to change if we are to avoid ‘the tragedy of waste’, as the report calls it, and if we are going to be able to feed the estimated 9 billion people in the world in 2075.

One of the reasons that Lo Jardinièr and I rarely throw away food is that we love leftovers and always use them up in some way. Today’s lunch was a good example of this:

Roast vegetables with feta, chickpeas and tahini dressing

We had some pumpkin, potatoes, onion, garlic, a carrot, a couple of mushrooms, one goats’ cheese and a piece of feta.

leftovers-1

 

We parboiled the potatoes, pumpkin and carrot, chopped into 2 cm cubes. They could have been roasted from raw but we were a bit short of time. We put them all with the sliced onion and peeled garlic cloves in a roasting tray with some olive oil, salt, a whole paprika pepper and some bay leaves and cooked them in the oven until they were soft – about 25 minutes, although it would have taken about an hour if we hadn’t parboiled them first.

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When the vegetables were nearly cooked, about 10 minutes before the end of the roasting time, we added the sliced mushrooms, half a tin of chickpeas, and the two cheeses cut into 1 cm cubes.

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While the vegetables were cooking I made a tahini dressing by crushing a clove of garlic with some sea salt in a pestle and mortar, adding a teaspoon of paprika, a tablespoon of lemon juice and two tablespoons of tahini and mixing to make a thick sauce or dressing which we poured over the vegetables at the table. A delicious way of using up some of the oddments we had ‘leftover’ in the kitchen!

From one season to another

 

Within the next couple of weeks, around the beginning of November, production of these delicious goats’ cheeses at Mas Rolland will stop for the winter – we’ll miss them, and we may freeze some for the occasional treat over the next few months.  For now, we’re still enjoying eating them with the last of the summer cops – stir-fried red and green peppers that we’re still picking from the garden – and the autumn crop of local Lucques olives, grown by a friend and sold, like the goats’ cheeses, in the village shop.

Jamming

Yesterday we picked 5.5 kilos of green and black ripe figs from a friend’s tree – and there are many more still ripening. They are delicious eaten fresh, just as they are, but we want to preserve most of them and the easiest way to do that is to make jam.

The black figs have a ‘jammier’ flavour while the green ones taste fresher. Both good – luckily we don’t have to choose between them! I cut 2 kilos of the black ones into quarters and mixed them in a big pan with a finely chopped whole lemon and 2 kilos of sugar. I then left the whole lot over night while the sugar drew the juices out of the figs.

The lemon adds some acidity and a bit of flavour. Some people, I know, add spices such as cinnamon to fig jam but I don’t think they need any other flavouring.  Once the mixture had come to the boil it took about an hour and a quarter for the jam to start setting – test it by putting a spoonful on a saucer and allowing it to cool, when the surface wrinkles it’s ready for bottling.  Lo Jardinièr used the colourful Catalan ceramic funnel we bought in a market in Collioure.

We now have eight jars of jam and we’ll make about the same amount again with the green figs, using the same method.

And with some of the fresh figs I made this salad: slices of fresh goats’ cheese arranged on a dish with quartered figs, sprinkled with ground black pepper and dressed with a mix of balsamic vinegar and olive oil – very tasty!

As common as…. peppers and butterflies

 

Most of our lavender flowers have died now, but I was glad there were one or two left this morning to attract this butterfly, even though it’s hardly a rare variety – either a Common White or a Southern Common White, it seems.

And even more common in our garden today were these red peppers – a real treat to come home to after a few days away.

 

Some of these are paprka peppers for drying, and the bigger ones are a mix of Red Marconi and Kandil Dolma. I decided to preserve the Red Marconis by pickling them – I held each one with tongs over the gas ring until the skin was blackened (it’s best to do this over a barbecue as I did the other day, but it was just too hot today to light the barbecue). Then there was the rather fiddly job of peeling them – made easier, but not easy by charring them like this.

 

When they were (roughly) peeled I brought to the boil a cup of water, a cup of cider vinegar and a cup of sugar in a pan then added the peppers for only 5 minutes or so, because they had already been partly cooked in the flames.  I put them straight into a sterilised jar and sealed it. They’ll be nice in the winter eaten in salads or as tapas.

 

I made salads for our lunch with goats’ cheese, sliced fresh raw peppers, chopped garlic, green olives, parsley and local olive oil – lovely flavours and crunchy peppers.

 

Canicule

Much of south-western, central and eastern France is suffering from a canicule – heatwave  – this weekend, with temperatures of 40° C which must be unbearable in those humid regions.  Here in the Languedoc we have normal summer temperatures of 30 to 35 degrees – it’s hot, but then it’s dry which makes the heat more tolerable, and we’re used to it and know how to cope with it.  This is the Mediterranean summer. We go out to the garden early in the morning, close the windows and shutters during the day and open them at night for some refreshing cooler air, and drink plenty of water….and some chilled wine too, of course!

Party

Lo Jardinièr and I have both turned 60 this year so we thought it was time for a party.  We’ve been planning it for months and inviting friends and family from the village and around and from Wales, London and the Basque country too. Finally on Saturday night everything and everyone came together and with a lot of help from a lot of people we had a fantastic evening that went on into the small hours in the garden belonging to some very good friends. A threatened thunderstorm turned up 24 hours early so we didn’t have to find shelter for the fire and all the guests after all – everything went to plan. I’ve long wanted to have a meshwi – a whole lamb roast – although I’d never done this before, but fortunately our friends B. and M-J have done this many times and they took charge of the cooking, starting the fire at about 3 in the afternoon, stuffing and sewing up the lamb with couscous, putting it all on the spit and feeding the fire with the vine wood we’d collected, basting the meat and then carving it – the latter with a lot of interested help and in the dark too by the time it was cooked!

 

 

This was the main course for 40 people, that followed entrées we’d made – rice salad, felafel, tomato salad, ratatouille, charcuterie. The lamb, specially ordered direct from a farm in the Aveyron by a wonderful arrangement with the caveau at the Domaine des Pascales, where we buy wine and where I exhibited my photos earlier in the summer, was perfect – tender, tasty, perfectly cooked.  We followed it with Roquefort and goats’ cheeses from Mas Rolland and then Turkish pastries I’d made and local peaches and nectarines.  We also had our friend Ray and his excellent jazz band to entertain us before and after the meal. It was a night to remember!

First mangetout peas

These peas seem to grow so quickly, and only a week after I posted photos of the first flowers I harvested the first small crop.  It was enough to make a salad with goats’ cheeses for the two of us for supper when we got home from the garden yesterday evening:

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I cooked the peas quickly in boiling water (just 2 or 3 minutes is enough) and arranged them around the plates, put the pelardons (small round goats’ cheeses) on them and added some slices of red pepper and small pieces of chorizo fried in olive oil, some chopped garlic and Picholine olive oil.  A quick and tasty supper with olive bread that we bought at Mas Rolland on Sunday.

In the garden, the deciduous ceonothus has recovered from the cold spell in February. I call this one deciduous to distinguish it from the evergreen variety we also have and which has dark green leaves all year round.  In fact, here even the deciduous variety rarely loses all its leaves.  I was worried about it because it had flower buds in January which were killed off by the frost, but it seems to have come back to life and is flowering better than ever.

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Le Marché fermier au Mas Rolland

This is one of our favourite events of the early summer.  The tiny hamlet of Mas Rolland, where we go to buy goats’ cheese, fills its narrow streets with producers’ stalls selling chicken and pork, cooked and ready to eat for lunch straight away at the tables provided, or packed to take home and cook there, shell fish, bread, charcuterie, olive oils and tapenade, cakes, cherries, jams, honey, and of course goats cheese.

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Long tables are laid out for hundreds of people to eat lunch in the sun or shade.  We’d ordered the paella made by the people at Neffiès who grow saffron and spent several hours with four friends and several bottles of very good local wine enjoying our lunch,  starting with a plate of charcuterie.

mas rolland 7

We were entertained by music from the jazz band Mosaïque

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and after lunch an explanation of how the goats’ cheeses are made:

mas rolland 10

It was a very enjoyable way to spend Sunday!

Spring salad

When he was here last week our son gave us a copy of Ottolenghi the Cookbook, full of the kind of food we love.  Today for lunch Lo Jardinièr made his interpretation of one of the recipes in it – a salad of griddled asparagus and courgette, with rocket from the garden, some of our pickled orange peppers, and goats’ cheese from Mas Rolland.  It made a perfect colourful lunch for a spring day.

asparagus salad

Out in the vineyards the vines are now growing proper leaves and the beginnings of flower buds – this year’s wine is well under way.

vineleaves

There’s one garriguette strawberry turning red in the garden – I hope we can eat it before the birds get to it!

strawberry

And the cistus bushes are beginning to flower.  The flowers look like crumpled tissue paper and last only a day – I think I got to this one a bit late, but there’ll be many more.

first cistus