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To take matters in hand oneself, make your own destiny, live and work in a self-determined way… sounds good, no? Actually, it isn’t so easy to pull off, and it comes with its own risks. This semisoft sheep’s milk cheese from the Aveyron region in the south of France is the result of such a courageous step. In April 1996, six sheep farmers decided to stop selling their milk to the large Roquefort producers at their fixed prices and instead start to make and sell cheese themselves.
Today their cooperative Bergers du Larzac is formed of 34 farms who provide 4.5 million later milk a year, with 49 employees to run a brand new cheesemaking facility in Cavalerie, an hour’s drive from Montpellier inland, around the corner form Roquefort. “We are,” the farmers point out in a video (below), “all equal, and everything is absolutely transparent. When we started we had no idea about nothing, and not a penny. But we did like our animals, keeping our heads and pushing forward. To invest back into the region, create something, as one family. As it happens, today we are farmers who don’t complain!”
The cheese speaks for itself. The Bergers produce about 20 different ones, all based on traditional recipes. I encountered the L’Estaing by chance (thank you, Serendipity!), and with its supple texture and complex aroma, including a tangy lemon zest note in the finish that I often find in aged firm sheep’s milk cheese, it reminds me of Ossau-Iraty, the classic Pyrenees shepherds cheese. The rind reflects the natural cave where the ripening takes place, and mine (from Tölzer Kasladen) was about four months old. I had never heard or read about this cheese – but that’s no surprise, 25 years really are only a blip in the history of cheese. The faces of these farmers show that this is only the beginning, and that they are facing their life and work, the future, with confidence. And that’s not to be dismissed.
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