May 16, 2014

Where Boston Hasn't Happened Yet: Brebis du Lochois


Here in the Loire Valley, we come across the Azay le Rideau marathon, at which nobody appears to have heard about the goings-on in Boston at all. It's quite refreshing. There is absolutely no security whatsoever, and we are allowed right up to the finish line, wearing our large backpacks, to cheer on these people who have just run 26.2 miles through castle country.

This guy scoops up his daughter just before the finish line to run across with her, where they are both greeted by a princess. Somehow, in the shadow of the nearly 600 year-old castle of Azay le Rideau, it actually seems fitting to have her as part of the celebration.

Everything is so much older here, it's as if Boston hasn't happened yet; it's in some distant future. As is, frankly, the entire United States. We eat dinner at La Boulaye and when the owner asks us what we like about living in France, one of the things we mention is the history that surrounds us. When we tell him that in San Francisco, we live in a house from the 1890s, and it's considered very old, he laughs. The place where we are dining was built in the late 1600s and hasn't changed much except that it's now a charming restaurant instead of a working farmhouse (but the surrounding land is still there and still being farmed).


Gigi is horrified by Anthony's rabbit stew, which comes in a bowl insulated by real rabbit fur. Even Pippa, our meat-eater, is a bit grossed out by this until she asks Anthony, "Did they really kill the rabbit to make that stew?" Anthony thinks quickly on his toes and answers, "It was already dead when they bought it at the market." Which is a genius answer because a) it is possibly true and b) it completely avoids the point of the question. Still, she is satisfied by this and no longer upset. I am conflicted: Part of me wants our children to be able to eat meat in restaurants but the other part wants them to think logically and understand where their food comes from. I should point out that recently, while speaking to French friends, I mention not wanting to eat rabbits myself, and they are both shocked: "But rabbits are just pests! We should eat as many as we can!" People have probably been eating rabbits in this very spot, to keep them out of the gardens, for many hundreds of years, so who am I to judge?

When it comes to the depth of Loire Valley history, this plaque pretty much says it all, but in French. It commemorates Joan of Arc's arrival in Blois on April 25, 1429: That's 584 years ago and before the Americas were even discovered by the Europeans.

THE CHEESE: Brebis du Lochois

This Brebis du Lochois is, as the name so clearly states, a sheep's cheese from Loche (the residents are called the Lochois) in the Loire Valley. This is generally goat country, and in fact the most famous cheeses of the region are probably St. Maure de Touraine and Couronne Lochoise. But this more unusual farmhouse raw sheep's milk cheese does the area proud as well.

It's so firm, it almost seems like an aged hard cheese...until it melts in your mouth. Then you have all the hallmarks of a soft sheep cheese: that thick creaminess and an acid tang. It's delicious and seems like it would travel well; in fact it seems like a cheese that's more like to crush the contents of a picnic basket than the other way around.


Loche, the town where the Lochois live and make this cheese, is 48 km away from Azay-le-Rideau by foot. That's just slightly beyond marathon distance (42.195km, or 26.2 miles). It's a solid cheese that can go the distance, just like those crazy runners.


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