Tonight’s stage takes us from Pau, which is a regular stop on the Tour route, to Lourdes, which is hosting the finish for only the second time in Tour history. Before the cyclists reach Lourdes, they will have to climb the hors catégorie Col d’Aubisque. Let’s hope the roads are bone dry, as Lourdes is at the end of around 40km of descending. We are still in the magnificent Pyrenees and therefore still in the home of the seriously endangered French Pyrenees cattle breeds. In yesterday’s stage preview we met the Aure et Saint-Girons, and tonight we’ll take a look at the two others: Lourdais and Béarnais.
Let’s start with the stage’s eponymous cow, the Lourdais. There’s really not a lot I can tell you about this beast and, to be honest, we are unlikely to get a sighting of one tonight. Whilst these days cattle are generally seen as “dairy” or “beef” breeds, with some cross-overs, this is a relatively recent development. Historically, cattle were all-rounders, and the Lourdais is described as
certainly the best all-rounder of all the Pyrenean breeds, with good physical proportions and good milk production of 20 liters a day after giving birth, without the use of special food rations.
Clearly being a jack of all trades is as undervalued for cattle as it is for people; when the conservation programme began in 1980 there were only 12 Lourdais cows remaining. The fact that the Lourdais link on one of my reliable cattle resources has a 404 error indicates that perhaps they haven’t been quite the success story of the Pie Noir or the Aure et Saint-Girons, although the Ferme Conservatoire keeps a herd of around 20 and there are reported to be up to 170 in the region.
The other breed we could see – although we might not be far enough west for it here – is the Béarnais. This ancient breed is not a prolific milk producer, yielding only 7-8 litres, and seem to have been preserved because of their aesthetic appeal – particularly of their horns – more than for their productive value. It’s kind of nice to think that this is seen as a good enough reason to save a dying breed. They might not be in the Ankole-Watusi class, but they are impressive horns:
Cowrespondent Will Levy, of Two Wheel Tours, has spent a lot of time in this region and snapped these pics:
Do these horns look Béarnaise to you? It’s possible!
If you’re planning a beef dish, Paula Wolfert comes to the rescue again with a Daube de Bœuf à la Gasconne. Her recipe is inspired by Maurice Coscuella, a chef from Plaisance-du-Gers, just north of Lourdes, so this a good fit for tonight’s stage.