The greater Paris region, the Ile de France, has a lovely annual event where farms open their gates to the public for a weekend. It’s called the “Balade du Goût” (Tasting Ride/Drive), and there’s a website with a map and details of all participating farms. It’s a great idea, bringing people closer to the farmers, and helping them promote their products.
We went to see a small goat farm about fifteen minutes away from here. In fact, we’d met the owners a couple of times at church, a sweet couple with a little daughter and another baby on the way.
It was a beautiful, sunny autumn day. The farm was down a country lane, set in one of the superb fully-enclosed old farm courtyards that are typical in this area.
Passing through huge wooden gates set in the wall, we found ourselves in a large open space, part cobbled and part gravel. In one corner was their home, a beautiful house covered with bright red leaves. Bounding the other sides of the courtyard were old stone barns, built from irregular cream-colored stones, half-covered with an old white stucco, with terracotta-tiled roofs. There was a pretty well, and a small tree with bright red berries and its leaves starting to turn shades of brown and orange.
At first the kids were surprised that the goats smelled so strongly, but we all got used to it quickly. They had a great time fetching handfuls of straw and feeding them to the goats.
Soon afterwards it was milking time. The goats ran into the stalls which were prepped with a grain treat, after which they were hooked up to the milking machines. (Mysteriously, behind them in the pen of goats still waiting to be milked, there was a single billy goat. He was having a pretty wild time – we decided it was easier to move the children on quickly past that scene!)
The farm had a covered table set up for visitors to taste the goat products. The fresh milk was mild and nutty-flavored. Some of the cheeses were ‘riper’ than others, but all were excellent (at least to the grown-ups in our family). They were also serving warm samples of a delicious home-made courgette-goat cheese soup.
Meanwhile the children had started coloring in goat pictures (except for Gaston, who as usual had decided to sit on the ground).
All in all, it was a fantastic afternoon. A couple of dozen people passed through while we were there. Some looked as though they’d travelled from Paris (certainly the father dressed in a pinstripe shirt and a waistcoat).
Judging from the food labelling in the big grocery stores, the French like to buy food that has been locally produced. Perhaps it’s a reflection of what appears to be the typical attitude towards eating in France: it’s more of a cultural event, rather than something utilitarian. Of course that’s the stereotype, but it seems to be largely true.
As an aside, I’m still finding the French approach to food interesting…Michael says he has yet to see anyone snacking on the train, the subway or in the street in Paris or Reims, in almost two months. People just don’t eat much while ‘on the go’, or even drink coffee.
That counts for kids as well. We quickly learned that once the children leave preschool for elementary school, they stop having a morning snack. (It took a little while for Conrad to adjust, but he’s definitely ready for lunch).
After school, French children eat “gouter” – an afternoon snack of biscuits, cake or fruit – and they have sit down dinner with the whole family closer to 7pm.
One evening we were invited to dinner by a local family in the village, and they served the children an appetizer of beet and parsley salad, sliced cucumber with a dip, and three different pâtés: rabbit, goose and mushroom. All of our kids looked stunned, although Conrad and Victoria tried a little of everything. Meanwhile our friends’ four children ate heartily….
At the best of times our children are very fussy, but some time ago I decided to stop agonizing over this challenge of parenthood (there’s plenty more to worry about!). So we keep offering everything, and shrugging when they don’t want it. I’m just hopeful that as they get older they’ll start emulating their parents and eating almost everything.
Anyway, back to the Balade du Goût…we finished our farm visit by tasting delicious fresh apple juice, and scooping Gaston up off the ground (again).
We took home one of the fluffy, mild crottin goat cheeses, and we had it for dinner with beets, walnuts, and a little olive oil and velours of balsamic vinegar. Excellent!