Apr 27, 2014

Olé (Almost Spanish): Bergeronnette

Our next Cathar destination is a fortress -- Salses. It doesn't have the pizazz of Carcassonne or Peyrepertuse, especially since we are forced to take an hour-long tour in a French so thickly accented with Catalan that not even the girls or I can understand it. Well, we're pretty sure it's French.

What it lacks in pizzazz, it makes up for in the history lesson, if you're into that sort of thing. Salses was built around 1500 by Spanish rulers King Ferdinand II d'Aragon and Isabelle de Castille and is considered, architecturally, to be something between a castle and a fort. What sticks with me the most, from our Catalan-French guide, is that this is a rare fortress whose main goal was not necessarily to keep people out: A major part of its defense is that it's a complete labyrinth inside, with strange short hallways that you must bend over to walk through. These sorts of things, including murderholes inside the kitchen, even, were done purposely to make any invaders an easy target for the soldiers stationed inside.


The fort was incorporated into French territory by the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrénées that redefined the French-Spanish border. More recently, somebody scratched his name into the rocks, which I usually see as jerky graffiti. But here, with a German name during the World War II years, it seems like an amazing bit of history, layered on top off more history.

You can definitely tell this was once Spanish territory. In architecture as well as language, there's a definite Spanish/Moorish flavor in the area. At the nearby 11th century Abbey de Fontfroide, I love the arches and doors surrounding the cloister. This is my fantasy architecture, and if Anthony and I ever build ourselves a villa somewhere, I will be the one pushing for this courtyard. This abbey is where the assassination of a monk was the catalyst for the crusade that wiped out the Cathars.


THE CHEESE: Bergeronnette

Bergeronnette is a raw sheep's milk cheese that can be eaten fresh (as young as 6-9 days) or aged. It's the kind of cheese that used to be made by each farm for its own consumption. Nowadays, you're more likely to get your Bergeronnette from a store than your own sheep. The cheese -- under the name Pérail du Fédou Bergeronnette  -- won a silver medal at the 2nd Olympics of Mountain Cheeses in 2003. And it won a gold medal in a cheese contest of the Languedoc Roussillon region in 2008.

When it is young, Bergeronnette has a very mild, milky taste which gets gamier (more of a sheep flavor) and stronger as the cheese matures. But even at its strongest, it's a mellow, oozy cheese that's easy to eat and love.


A lovely, interesting cheese from the region with a wonderful taste au lait (of milk), which is pronounced "olé" and, therefore, is almost Spanish. Salses and the Abbey are both almost Spanish as well, having been originally built in Spanish territory before become French.



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