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Aug 8, 2018

Saumur is Set in Stone: Lochois

THE STORY:

Saumur, a small city out past the Loire Valley in the department of Maine-et-Loire in the region of Pays de la Loire, is famous for several things: One is the beautiful reflection of the city over the Loire River. Another is the history -- and there's a lot of it. And you can't hear about Saumur without hearing about tuffeau (also sometimes spelled tufeau) or limestone.


The reflection in the river and castle view makes a view that's hard to resist. Here, it's the perfect teen selfie background.



And this shot of me, non-selfie style, taken by my teen daughter.


Quarried locally, the tuffeau is the same creamy tannish-gray stone that gives many of the Loire Valley palaces their look, including the local homes and the Château de Saumur overlooking the town. Originally built in the 10th century to protect from Norman attacks, the castle was destroyed and rebuilt in the 12th century by King Henry II of England. It has been in the hands of England, France, and also Anjou, before it became part of France.




Nearby Château d'Ussé, nicknamed the Sleeping Beauty castle, is also made of tuffeau.



Mining of the tuffeau peaked in the 15th century. It was often found at the riverside, which made it easier to transport. The dug-out caves and extensive network of tunnels connecting them make ideal wine cellars. Some are also used to grow mushrooms -- the perfect cool, dark, damp place for it. Going further back, some of the limestone caves which appeared naturally also made great dwellings for the troglodytes, and the greatest concentration of these caveman-caves are just around Saumur. Accommodations are a whole lot more comfortable now. And the town is charming -- with its tuffeau homes and colombage buildings.



It has a revolutionary history, serving as a state prison under Napoléon Bonaparte during the French revolution -- specifically what is knows as the Revolt in the Vendée. In World War II, it's renowned for the 1940 Battle of Saumur, in which the teenage cadets from the local cavalry school successfully defended the town from German invasion (at least for a while...). In fact, the town was awarded the Croix de Guerre (War Cross) for its displays of patriotism and resistance throughout World War II. By 1944, however, it was largely controlled by the Germans and was the target of a bombing raid by the Allies. Luckily, it has been lovingly rebuilt and restored and nowadays is just about the most peaceful place you could find for a weekend away.

THE CHEESE: Lochois

Lochois is a sheep cheese from the Indre-et-Loire department in the Centre Val de Loire region. For a soft sheep cheese, it's relatively firm and relatively aged with a gorgeous crust of gray, tan, white, and a warm yellowish hue as well. The cheese is solid and dense, with a buttery, sunny flavor as warm as the color.


You can see I buy the last cheese in the store, and that's because these Parisians know a good cheese when they see one. And an unusual cheese, too -- it's rare to see it in Parisian fromageries. But when you do, grab one, because they will go quickly.


THE CONNECTION:

The cheese Lochoise look vaguely like a limestone used in building Saumur and the neighboring Loire Valley, a gorgeous, warm buttery color. More relevantly, its name comes from Loches, nearby to Saumur, in which the Château de Loches is built from the same local tuffeau (limestone) that makes Saumur look so distinctive.

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