The most delicious French goats milk cheese

Written by on September 29, 2014 in French Cuisine, Nord-Pas de Calais

goats-cheese-france

Less than an hour from Calais, but deep in the belly of rural France in the lovely Seven Valleys lives a cheese producer. She is famous in these parts for the delicious goats milk cheese she makes and organic bread that she bakes in her authentic wood oven…

goats-milk-cheese-france

Valerie Magniez is an artisan cheese producer – some call her the goat lady.

goats-cheese-chevrerieOn her little farm in the village of Hesmond, Valerie’s goats outnumber the people. As you drive along the little country roads that lead to the village, you may pass a tractor or two, a few cars perhaps but this “ville tranquille” as it is known, is rarely lively. Unless, that is, it is one of the days when Valerie bakes bread. Then you will find to your astonishment that the single main road of the town is packed full of cars and bikes as locals and tourists alike head for the farm. They are here to buy the organic country bread that goes so perfectly with the fresh goats milk cheese that the goat lady makes daily. Rumour has it that she uses a 400 year old live yeast mix though when I asked she did not confirm or deny.

I have eaten a lot of cheese in my time, I am in fact considered a bit of a cheesaholic. I have never though had cheese quite like the goat lady’s; when fresh it is a little sour, creamy, and so completely delectable it is seductive and quite addictive. I don’t know if it is because when I buy it from the farm I can never resist going into the Gothic looking chevrerie that Valerie and her husband built especially for the goats. Or perhaps it is the fresh herbs she keeps at the counter and sprinkles on request when she wraps the individual cheeses.

goats-milk-cheese-goatValerie encourages the interaction between goat and human and these beasts are more like friendly dogs, curious and keen to engage your attention. The goats are only kept for milking (except for the big male known as “l’Amoreuse”) and Valerie does that all by hand. She also keeps two Jersey cows as some of the cheese she makes requires a blend of two milks.

When I told the goat lady how much I loved her cheese she invited me to come and help her one morning. She works at a frantic pace and I found myself running alongside her from the barn to the kitchens accompanied by a tiny kitten and several chickens. Somehow along the way I managed to don a fetching plastic hat, jacket and booties to suit hygiene requirements.

In the little kitchen where the cheese magic occurs, Valerie showed me the buckets of milk she had collected. The thick and creamy liquid is filtered and left to separate, salt is added and some has cows milk mixed in. When she gauges the time is right – usually never more than two days from the time of milking, the unctuous juice is poured into moulds. Everything is by hand and the only machine I saw in the whole process was the fridge.

valerie-magniez,-the-goat-ladyValerie told me she does this every single day of the week; she never takes a holiday but says she is happy because this is her “passion”. She is typical of the local artisans of the area who grow organic heirloom vegetables, breed snails, make wine and cider, bread and cakes, beer and pies. This is a secret foodie’s paradise this place, with much to discover.

As the goat lady talks, she squeezes and gropes the cheese curds, pours, stirs, tops up the moulds, turns older moulds over, fills yet more. Everything is done at a fierce pace.

There are heart shaped cheeses, pyramids, cylinders and plain rounds – “grand boules and petite boules”; some have extra salt rubbed on.

This cheese is made with love and I think that this might be what makes it so unusually delicious, so stand out different that one taste and you’re hooked.

The Goat Lady’s Farm

The farm shop stocks the cheese which ranges from straight from the mould to 28 days old though rarely does it get that far. Valerie says that most customers (me included) like the cheese really fresh. There is also a tiny epicerie on site which stocks organic local produce such as fruit, vegetables and meat as well as exotic items such as Japanese Miso soup and organic Egyptian figs. The website for the farm www.halte-autrefois.com has details for when the bakery and shop are open, where to find Valerie at local markets and details for booking the gite. Address: 28 rue Embry, 62990 Hesmond, France

On Friday afternoons you can watch the bread being made and children are encouraged to join in.

goats-cheese-making-bread

Stay close by at Valerie’s fantasy get away from it all gite (top photo). No electricity, no phone (though there are gas cooking facilities). Live life as it was in the old days in the most beautiful little French country cottage alongside a bubbling brook. The two-bedroom cottage is just 15 Euros per night per person (2014).

Website for gite: www.halte-autrefois.com

How to get there:

The Seven Valleys area is full of beautiful little villages, hill top towns, lush countryside, artisan boulangeries, charcuteries, fromageries and small producers. Less than an hour from Calais port you will discover this off the beaten track part of northern France where the locals have a passion for produce and heritage. Close by to the goat farm you will find an artisan producer of award winning wines and cider – and the aperitif of choice in this part of France – Perlé de Grosseille made with red currants to an old recipe. There is a snail farm, an heirloom vegetable producer, jam producer whose delectable confitures are served in the top restaurants and hotels in the world. This little part of France is a foodie paradise yet so close to the UK it’s an easy day trip or better still a long weekend of tasting and trying…

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