BY MIMI GIBOIN / PHOTOGRAPHY BY MIMI GIBOIN
A rustic farmhouse surrounded by fields of wheat and sunflowers is the first thing guests see when driving up to Pas de Blénac, Jean-Paul Cohen's property in southwestern France. Part of the beauty of buying from the markets of France is knowing that the artisanal headquarters aren't far away. In this case, the farm is 30 kilometers from the beach town Royan, where my family lives.
When visiting Monsieur Cohen's farm you see the care that goes into raising his goats. Spending most of the day out in the fields, the goats come into the barn in only to be fed and milked. The fermented grass that is fed to them is what makes Pas de Blénac what it is. The flavor in the resulting cheeses changes with the seasons and with each variety of grass fed to the goats. The nutrient-dense fermented grasses come from Monsieur Cohen's fields and are cared for by the boss himself.
Photo 1: The milk is collected here and pumped into the adjoining room, where it will sit for a few hours while the curds separate from the whey.
Photo 2: Goats patiently await their feeding.
Photo 3: Monsieur Jean-Paul Cohen, proprietor.
Photo 4: The collected curds are hung to dry in cheesecloths for a few hours.
Everything is done by hand on this farm except for the milking of the goats; this is the one area that Monsieur Cohen has modernized. Hand-milking is only seen in farms with a small yield: His production can be up to 80,000 rondelettes each year. Everything after the milking is done by hand either by Monsieur Cohen or his few employees. A cheese can go to market in one day or one year, depending on the aging time Monsieur Cohen gives it.
The wooden crates at Pas de Blénac's market stand display the full, multi-hued range of young to aged goat cheeses: a deep red sun-dried tomato and basil cheese here, one flavored with herbs de Provence there. Others are coated in lavender, gray ash, or bay leaves. One of the best sellers is the aged Cognac flavor.
Photo 1: Goats feeding and being milked. This system secures their necks (with plenty of room), keeping them calm and organized.
Photo 2: Feeding time is simultaneously milking time.
Photo 3: The automated "milkers" being secured onto the udders
Photo 4: Bonding time.
Alas, you cannot find Monsieur Cohen's cheeses in the States, but you can make your own Pas de Blénac–inspired creations. Source a local cheese like North Valley Farms Chèvre, drizzle some olive oil and press some of your favorite ingredients into your chèvre. And in honor of the French, eat more cheese. I do.
Mimi Giboin is a food, interiors, lifestyle and travel photographer splitting her time between San Francisco, New York and Paris. She loves to spend time in Sacramento visiting family and scouting out the exploding local food culture.