May 22, 2014

World's Oldest Professions: Le Lingot du Berger


Sure, we have recently all learned -- newsflash! -- that bread baking and farming are both professions. Have been and will be for time immemorial. But there are a host of other professions that are all but disappeared. The French of course love their traditions, but with high national unemployment, even they cannot justify keeping around the lace-weavers and watermill carpenters.

At the Village of Vieux Metiers (Village of Old Professions), they highlight jobs of the 19th century, most of which have disappeared. In May at the Village, they celebrate the Fête des Metiers: The 80 professions represented by 400 volunteers include leather-workers, printers (not the kind by Canon or Epson), blacksmiths, launderers, and the person who squares wooden beams. The village is only reachable by car, several hours from Paris, and our weekends are booked, so it doesn't look like we'll get out there this month. You can all just imagine how heartbroken my husband is about this.

Here's an A-Z list of some by-gone French jobs:
Allumeur de réverbères -- gas lamp lighter
Bouffon du roi -- court jester
Chiffonier - ribbons collector (used to shred into fibers for paper -- till the 1960s)
Drapier de soie -- draper of silk
Essarteur -- clearer of forests to make way for homes (this still exists, I guess. Called a Developer.)
Ferblantier -- tinsmith
Gabelou -- tax collector, especially tax on salt
Hercheur -- mining wagon driver and fixer
Impositeur -- another tax man, in charge of discharging tax funds
Jurat -- municipal counselor/leader, especially in the southern part of France

And I can't find a K profession. And thank goodness, because I've had enough. A-J it is, then.

Here he is -- a chiffonier in 1899:

chiffonnier photo from Eugène Atget

One day, this passes outside the window:

When we hear the music, our natural (American suburban) inclincation is to think it's an ice cream truck. But no. Upon closer inspection, it's an orgue de Barbarie (barrel organ). And what is he doing? His job is mobile old-fashioned music maker, and this is his "call" that lets you know he's out there so you can slip him a few coins.

Every once in a rare while, I hear an itinerant peddler calling out a different cry walking down our island. It reminds me very much of the carts in Japan that used to walk around shouting out "yaki-imo" ("roast sweet potatoes"). Except that I'm sure he's not selling roasted potatoes. I suspect he's collecting tin scraps or something equally archaic.

As soon as I hear the bell ringing, I rush to the window to see what this guy is doing. At just a glance, I instinctively know he's an affûteur -- a knife sharpener.

My knives have been dull for a good half year, and just yesterday I finally stopped procrastinating and brought them in to the sharpener. So this morning, when I see him walking on the street below, I'm distressed that I don't have any knives to give him; then I realize we have one old, cheap, chopping knife that came with the apartment that barely cuts butter. So I run down with it (yes, running with knives) in my pajamas, with my camera. It's 5€ to sharpen a knife I don't use or care about, and it's worth every penny just to get the photos. Note that he's powering the wheel with his feet on wooden paddles.


I suspect some of these old professions won't be around much longer, so it feels good to get my knife sharpened in the streets while I still can. I could use it to cut a yummy Japanese sweet potato, if only somebody would come around the corner selling that.

THE CHEESE: Le Lingot du Berger

Le Lingot du Berger is a raw goat's milk cheese from Lachapelle-Auzac, a community in the department of Lot in the region of the Midi-Pyrénées. There are literally dozens of kinds of Lingots, and though they partly share the same name (often "Lingot de something or other"), they are different cheeses -- sometimes very. They can be made from cow or sheep milk instead, and they can be manufactured in difference parts of the country with very different results. Furthermore, they can be fresh, aged, or ashed. I feel like I could practically come up with 365 Lingots, if I really tried hard enough (spoiler alert: I won't).

It is certainly related to Le Lingot, a raw goat's milk cheese rectangle from Quercy in the same region, which I have already written about. Whether they are perfect representatives of their labels or it's the particular cheeses I taste, the Lingot du Berger is firmer and more of a dry creamy, as compared to the Lingot du Berger's oozy wet creaminess. It's also more of a thick brick. They are both medium-strength goaty flavored cheeses but the Lingot seems a bit goatier. Again, it's hard to say with much specificity both because I don't taste them at the same time, and it could simply be that one has aged longer.


This Lingot is a Lingot du Berger, meaning a Lingot of the Shepherd (or, I suppose, in this case, more specifically a lonely Goatherd, yodel-ay-hee, yodel-ay-hee, yodel-ay-hee-hoo). Below, at a historical reenactment village in the Dordogne, a shepherd  -- the same shepherd who was geese herding in the photo above -- struts her stuff. Or at least her sheep's stuff.


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