I was recently in France for a couple of weeks and it’s fair to say I ate a lot of cheese. A mammoth amount of cheese. An obscene amount of cheese. I took some photos of the cheese and was going to post them all on here but then realised that I would be in danger of looking like the weirdy neighbour in the 1970s that used to invite everyone over to show them their holiday slides over a coq au vin and a Wall’s Vienetta: ‘Here’s me paddling in the river eating some French bread and camembert…and here’s me in the scenic town of Perigueux with a brebis au fenugrec…just me lounging by the pool with a sliver of Roquefort…’ You get the picture. Hello, are you still there?
So, I thought I’d spare you and instead focus on one of the key cheeses of the region we were staying in, the Dordogne. Compared to some regions of France, it’s not an area awash with big-name cheeses but it quickly became apparent that it was quite a sheepy-goaty region (the technical term, I believe). I fell in love with French markets and dragged the rest of the family off whenever I tracked one down – and in France you can find a market within about 10km on any given morning. There was fromage galore, from national big-hitters like Maroilles and Epoisses to regional specialities but, above all, there were Cabécou, gorgeous little discs of goat’s cheese loveliness (the name ‘Cabécou’ comes from the old language of southern France and means ‘little goat’).
And here is a Rocamadour, part of the Cabécou family (although, as you’ll see when you read on, it’s the branch of the family that did quite well for itself, moved away and now blanks its country cousins in the supermarket):
Rocamadour is a soft raw goat’s milk cheese, produced in the Périgord and Quercy regions of France around the town from which they take their name – Rocamadour, a village which appears to cling perilously, if picturesquely, onto some cliffs. Each cheese is about the size of the palm of your hand and weighs about 35g. The cheese was previously known as Cabécou de Rocamadour but in 1996 it was granted AOC status (which I previously wrote about under Pont L’Évêque) and so set itself apart from all the other Cabécous that don’t conform to the AOC regulations (although interestingly, I read in the rather lovely The Whole Fromage by Kathe Lison that makers of Cabécou de Périgord are also working towards an AOC and so will be able to hold their heads high once more when they see Rocamadour putting on airs and graces in Carrefour).
The history of the cheese goes back to when goats were introduced to the region by invading Arabs in the Middle Ages. For centuries it was made, mainly by women, to supplement farming incomes. Just a small amount of rennet is added to the ripe milk and then left to coagulate for up to twenty-four hours (most cheeses are left for an hour or so) before being gently tipped into moulds. It’s ready to eat after only a week or two of aging, by which time it has developed a thin rind; however, it can also be matured for longer (I saw some aged Cabécous in the market that looked like leathery little beer-mats). Ours was relatively young and it tasted lovely – buttery and nutty. On the ‘goaty scale’ it scored an average with a definite tang but nowhere near a full-on headbutt.
And you know when I said I wouldn’t subject you to any holiday photos? Guess what? I lied! Go on, just one, for illustrative purposes only…
Here’s how we ate the Rocamadour; with a little salad, some walnuts and a drizzle of honey: