Goats and kids, cheese and meat

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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.

Las cebas de Lezignan

Or, as they’re called in French, les oignons doux de Lézignan.  This is my fifth year of writing a blog about our garden and I think I’ve posted about these sweet onions each year – last year’s post is here – so I won’t repeat what I’ve written any more than to say that this village has had the name ‘la Cèbe’ given to it, from the Occitan ceba meaning onion, because of the tasty variety of sweet onions that grow here.  Each year we go to buy young plants from one of the producers in the village – whose website is here – and plant them in our garden.  We don’t achieve the record weights of up to 2 kilos per onion, but we do grow beautiful large onions that are so sweet they can be eaten raw when young and then later in the summer used for cooking.

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Just dropped into the ground with the green shoots trimmed a bit and leaning over slightly in their double row, the onions will soon get established (we hope) and will stand up straight.

Very garlicky duck

We had some duck legs, bought in the village shop this morning, and our last oignon de Lézignan (sweet onion) of the season.  The ducks that reach us here from the south-west of France have had (I hope) a happy life, but that does mean that they’re quite mature and their legs need slower cooking. On the other hand I do like duck skin to be crispy.  So I have devised a way of cooking them that combines these two requirements.  This was tonight’s version:

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It was sad to see the last of these onions go, but it was all in a good cause.  I quartered the onion and sliced it finely, then sautéed it in a little olive oil in heavy cast-iron pan , with a sprinkle of salt to bring out the sweetness.  I sliced the cloves of a whole bulb of garlic and put some of the pieces underneath the skin of the duck legs.  When the onion had softened I added the rest of the garlic, a few bay leaves, some freshly ground black pepper and a glass of white wine.  I put the duck legs on this ‘bed’ of onion, garlic and herbs, put the lid on the pan and simmered, or pot-roasted, for about 45 minutes.   By this time the onion slices had melted together into a delicious garlic-, duck- and bay-scented purée in a wine sauce.  I put the duck legs under the grill while the sauce reduced a little on the hob and then they were ready to serve.

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And this evening, with clearer skies, there was just enough daylight to photograph the finished dish.

Yes, they’re really ripening!

The tomato I thought was turning colour the other day and a few others are definitely turning red now – I think we’ll be picking these in a couple of days, just after our neighbour who proudly showed us one he’d picked this morning, but we’re not competitive (really)!

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All our ripening tomatoes are on the Languedocian plants, a variety which seem to do very well here in the Languedoc, not surprisingly.

And the rest of today’s harvest:

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Three cucumbers, one aubergine, two Trébons sweet onions, one large Lézignan sweet onion and some herbs to go with them all.  We also picked a couple of lettuces and one of them, with one of the cucumbers and a couple of goats’ cheeses from Mas Rolland, dressed with olive oil milled in the village, made a very nice lunch for a hot day.

>Onions from Lézignan

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‘La Cébe des Lézignan es douça coumo lou pan’ (Occitan for ‘Lézignan onions are sweet as bread’. (from Monsieur Lucas’s website)

This morning we went on our annual trip to Lézignan la Cèbe near Pézenas to buy seedlings of the famous onions that grow there. I wrote about this village and its onions last year so I won’t describe them in detail now, but I’ll just say that they are very sweet when we start to pull them in June to eat in salads or to grill on the barbecue. Later in the summer they become less sweet and we use them for cooking. This morning we planted 50 seedlings next to the 50 seedlings of slightly earlier but similar Spanish onions.

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Looking back at last year’s post about Lézignan onions, I see that while Lo Jardinièr planted the onions I sowed haricot beans…and exactly the same happened this year. I sowed a row of Contender beans, a few days later than the tradition date here which is 19 March, St Joseph’s Day.

Hummingbird hawk moth

I’ve seen a couple of these during the past week or so, rather earlier than usual I think, and managed to get a couple of photos of this one on our aubretia flowers this morning:

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They’re hard to photograph as they never settle on a flower, but just put down a long proboscis into the centre of the flower, which can be seen here beneath the blur of the beating wings.

>Spring flowers, Lezignan onions and wild asparagus

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There’s a partridge hiding in the shadow under these olive trees, and a colourful mix of grape hyacinths and dandelions in the foreground.

It’s the time for planting oignons de Lézignan, the variety of sweet onions which come from the village of Lézignan la Cèbe near Pézenas (ceba is the Occitan word for onion and the village has taken the French version of this word as part of its name).  I wrote about this last year on this blog.  Last year our neighbour went to buy them for us from Monsieur Lucas, one of several producers in the village, the one he says is the best, and this year it was our turn to go. 

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M. Lucas has a website, advertised in the photo (left) for orders by post:
plantsdoignons.free.fr 
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I liked the onion sign attached to a rubbish bin!

As M. Lucas’s website tells us: ‘La Cébe des Lézignan es douça coumo lou pan’ (Occitan for ‘Lézignan onions are sweet as bread’.  Last year we enjoyed them raw in salads until the grew bigger and stronger-flavoured when we barbecued them and cooked them in sauces.

Lo Jardinièr planted them today in a double row, cutting off the tops of the leaves and putting them not too deep and lying slightly against the earth beside them.  Once they settle into the ground they straighten themselves up.

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While he was doing that, I sowed the first haricot beans of the season.  According to one of our friends and gardening neighbours, St Joseph’s Day, 19 March, is the time to start sowing haricot beans, but although we’d prepared the ground for one reason or another I didn’t get round to sowing them until today, which according to the Gardener’s calendar is a good phase of the moon for them.

And it’s asparagus time!

Looking back at my blog posts for this time last year, I noticed that when I wrote about Lézignan onions I also wrote about wild asparagus.  So, it’s not surprising that today we’ve picked the first wild asparagus of this spring.  We didn’t have to go far – when we first took over our garden it had been unused for many years, so wild plants had taken over.  When we found wild asparagus plants we either moved them to somewhere convenient or left them where they were in some of the wilder areas of the plot.  Today we picked a bunch which made a tasty first course for our lunch, cooked in boiling water for about 10 minutes and served very simply with olive oil, chopped garlic, salt and pepper and bread.  They have all the flavour of fresh cultivated asparagus but intensely concentrated into thinner spears – wonderful!

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Jasmine flowers too …

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The jasmine we planted a couple of years ago is flowering for the first time.

>Asparagus and sweet onions / Les asperges et les oignons de Lézignan

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Onions from Lézignan-la-Cèbe are a local speciality.  They are sweet onions from a small village near Pézenas which in 1615 added ‘la Cèbe’ to its name, from the Occitan word for onion – ceba. In Occitan there is even a special verb meaning ‘to plant onions’ – cebejar.  In spring the onion growers in the village sell young plants at the roadside for replanting.  Our neighbour went there and brought 100 plants for us.

L’oignon doux de Lézignan-la-Cèbe est une spécialité de ce village près de Pézenas.  Le village a ajouté ‘la Cèbe’ à son nom en 1615 en honneur.  Ce mot vient du mot occitan ceba (oignon).  En printemps les cultivateurs d’oignons vendent les jeunes plantes au bord de la route.  Notre voisin y est allé et il nous en a apporté 100 plants.

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It was difficult to find space for 100 onions we hadn’t planned for, but we’ve put them in a double row alongside the potatoes.

asparagus salad 1_1_1 We’ve been lucky this week – we were given some more wild asparagus too.  We cooked the spears for a couple of minutes in boiling water, let them cool and dressed them with olive oil and a little lemon juice to eat as a salad.  They were delicious – a concentrated flavour of asparagus but with the added ‘herbyness’ of the garrigue. / On a préparé une salade d’asperges sauvages: cuire les asperges dans l’eau bouillante pour 2 minutes et puis ajouter un peu d’huile d’olive et de jus de citron.  Elles étaient delicieuses avec un gout concentré d’asperge et des herbes de la garrigue.

And a rustic wall / et un mur rustique

Lo Jardinièr has started to make a stone wall to protect our rose bushes from the north wind, using pieces of stone he’s collected.  / Lo Jardinièr a commencé la construction d’un mur en pierres pour protéger nos rosiers du vent du nord, en utilisant des pierres qu’il a ramassé.

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the first row of stones in a trench ….
rose wall 3_1_1 choosing the right stones … rose wall 2_1_1_1 work in progress.