11 June, 2009

The story of Pelardon.

I've just been in Claudie and Bruno's barn and cheese room. About time I allowed my curiosity free rein, as I have been buying goat cheese whenever possible from their market stall for the better part of this decade. They make a very fine Pélardon to which I remain exceedingly loyal.

The Pélardon, a small, round goat cheese, has been made in the Languedoc Roussillon since the dawn of time. Well, perhaps its history doesn't stretch quite that far back, but Pliny the Elder did speak well of it, noting that the cheese was served at the best tables of Rome...In the ensuing centuries, while the cheese continued to be made, its status drifted rather miserably downward, as goats were long considered the poor man's cows. For a good long stretch, up until the twentieth century, really, the Pélardon was pretty much off the wider culinary radar, being made only for at-home consumption, rather than being sold.

Today the reputation of the delectably tangy, creamy Pélardon (and other goat cheeses) has been very much rehabilitated. The Pélardon now additionally benefits from the imprimatur of the AOC, which came about thanks to the combined efforts of locals who conscientiously standardized the ancient cheese-making ways in the 1960s and avid, quality-focused Pélardon fans who lobbied for national recognition in the 1980s.

But how is Pélardon in fact made? This was the question driving my visit to Claudie and Bruno's barn. For starters, this raw-milk cheese is seasonal; that is, it is available while the goats produce milk, and cannot be made from frozen milk. This means you can start getting your fix in February or March, when the nanny goats have their kids. As it gets hotter, there is less milk; by autumn, the only Pélardon you can get is amply aged (in a good way). Then the goats have a well-earned break, and we go without for awhile.

The goats are required by AOC law to be outside a minimum of 210 days a year in space large enough to ensure at least 0.2 hectares per animal. In the Cevennes this translates to grazing in forests often dominated by chestnut trees, and herb- and scrub oak-filled open heath (called the garrigue). What these goats eat is of course bound to affect how their milk--and thus their cheese--tastes. Hence Pélardon typicité, which is why at least 80 percent of the goats' feed must be from local, native vegetation (rather than hay for example).
Claudie milks twice a day. Each of the goats, which are required by AOC rules to be either Saanen, Alpine, Rove or crossings of these three breeds, produce on average, about 500 liters a year.
Live cheese cultures and rennet are added to fresh drawn milk, which causes it to curdle (i.e. solidify). This goes on for 24 hours, after which Bruno scoops the jelly-like milk into perforated forms. The curdled milk will rest overnight in the molds; by the next day, the volume in each mold will have decreased by half, with the clear liquid (whey) having slowly seeped out of the perforations. The resulting little cake is put on a metal grill to rest, then flipped over. The grills, filled with rounds of fresh, very white cheese are carried into an temperature- and humidity-controlled drying room, where they will continue to decrease in humidity and thus size. Next they go into the aging room, where they will take on their distinctive bluish or beige-ish color and aromas. They will still need to be turned every two days, and will spend at least 11 days ripening. At no point are any flavors, colorants or concentrates added, nor is the milk ever heated.

Once the rounds are ready, Claudie sells them at market at a range of ages: "fresh" ones, creamy (with a soft center), mi-sec, or "half-dry" (which has a more assertive, rich flavor) all the way to the smallest, darker and more solid Pélardons, which have the fullest flavor. Each type has its best uses, and the fun is in comparing them to one another. It is a wonderful cheese to grill on toast and serve with a mustardy green salad. But this cheese, which fits easily in the palm of your hand--and is the cheese of the Cevennes--definitely has its place simply on the cheese plate, along with any one of the other 365-some cheeses of France.

Sigh: so many cheeses, so little time. While I strategize how I am going to manage to try all the French cheeses, I think I'll have another piece of Pélardon.


  1. Lovely blog! I read Jamie's comment on "bienvenue chez moi" and I found you. I was born in France but have lived in Los-Angeles for 30 years. I am a film and TV make-up artist. I have spent time in Les Cevennes when I was young. One of my niece lives near Lodeve and my sister and parents live in Rodez (not too far from you). I am very attached to my "favorites" blogs; they keep me in touch with France.

  2. Sorry, Dedene's blog is "soyez la bienvenue chez moi".

  3. Thanks for your visit and the kind words! I haven't yet been to Rodez, but I have enjoyed strolling through Lodeve. There is a museum that has excellent exhibitions...


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