Apr 16, 2014
After each day away we seem to need a few days to get the shopping, washing and cleaning up to date. I'm sure that's not the correct ratio (a few days of domesticity to one day of sight seeing) but it just seems that way. However after our trip to see the 'Viaduc du Viaur' we had to collect the tickets for the rugby match this coming Friday and we also had to navigate our way through some house maintenance. We woke up one morning to find there was no heating and no hot water. I went down in the cellar to reset 'la chaufage' but it kept failing so we needed Jacques Pistres, the plumber to fix the problem. My French does not cover phoning plumbers and the phrase book is no help either. Anyway I gave Sylvie a call and she got the plumber to come the next day. Once the filter was cleaned with some French WD40 everything seemed to be back in order and we have hot water and heating in abundance.
On the way to Castres Olympique to pick up the tickets for the rugby, Jean Jacques took me on a tour of the surrounds of Mazamet. The next day Jenny and I drove to Caucalcières and left the car on the other side of the Thoré river to take one of the walks that Jean Jacques suggested. The sun was brilliant without a cloud in the sky and we set off for a long walk along the river valley. The wild flowers were prolific and there were birds tweeting loudly although we couldn't see them. Maybe they have got smart given the French propensity to shoot them. We walked for quite a way before we spoke to some others who were walking the same track and it was quite clear that the track went for miles so we came to a small stream, sat down for a rest and then headed back to the car. It was a lovely and relaxing day.
We were rested enough for the next day's drive to Roquefort and Millau. We took the freeway to Albi and then turned right to Roquefort via St. Sernin sur Rance and St. Affrique. We were going to eat at Hotel Carayon in St. Sernin but we arrived at 11.30 am which was too early but we had a coffee instead. The scenery on the way was spectacular with views that are some of the best we have seen.
We finally arrived at Roquefort and drove to the end of the town where we came to the Roquefort Société. For those readers who have not already guessed this is where Roquefort cheese is manufactured and it is the only place where it is made. The process is fascinating. When we arrived, the place was shut, after all it was 1.30 pm. So we walked down to a small restaurant for some lunch which was a little uninspiring. We headed back to the Société and walked down to reception to start a tour of the caves. We did the tour with a French guide, four other adults and a group of around forty school kids and their teachers. The outside temperature for the day was around 25ºC but the temperature inside the caves was 8ºC and we had no warm clothing. Luckily the guide gave us two blankets to keep warm during the hour long tour.
For those of you who don't know, Roquefort is made from unpasteurised sheeps' milk with a microorganism called pencillium roqueforti introduced into the milk in the proportion of 4 grams to 5000 litres of milk. It is this microorganism and the natural climate and humidity in the caves that is perfect for the microorganism to thrive and grow. It is this growth which gives the cheese the blue mould in small holes that are poked into the cheese before it is stored in the caves. Added salt invades the cheese during the ripening process and that combined with the mould gives the cheese its distinctive flavour.
The size of the cave complex is staggering and they are able to mature 1.7 million wheels of cheese in the various caves at any one time. Annual production from all producers is 3 million wheels.
At the Roquefort Société, the largest of the producers, the cheese has different characteristics depending on the cave in which it is matured. There are three main varieties from Cave Abeille, Cave des Templiers and Caves Baragnaudes and they have quite distinctive characteristics and tastes. We had some Roquefort in the fridge which we bought from the local supermarket and I was keen to see if it was the real mccoy and sure enough it was labeled Rouquefort - Cave Abeille which just happened to be my favourite.
We left Roquefort to travel on towards the 'Viaduc du Millau'. This was quite different from the one over the Viaur insofar as it was modern construction but absolutely spectacular. There's not much to do other than be amazed and learn about the massive amounts of everything that were required to build the thing. It carries the A75 motorway north/south and is well worth a visit.