It’s the individual time trial and we know what that means. Either we’ll see no cows at all, or the same cows over and over and over again (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Of course, with Cowbell so close to taking yellow, we’ll forgive you if you are too nervous to spot bovines tonight. Cowbell is not up until just after midnight, though, so perhaps cow-spotting will have a calming effect. If you do see cows, see if you can identify the Montbéliarde, Villard-de-Lans or even Abondance.
The Montbéliarde is a dairy breed that originated in the France-Comté region and is also known as the Alsatian. They are still closely associated with that region, given that AOC regulations for the Comté cheese require that the milk come from the Montbéliarde. My cattle bible describes it as the “best milker in the French upland red-pied group”, similar to the Simmental “though more elegantly built”. There are around 400,000 of them in France, where they are the second largest dairy herd, but whether any of them are in such close proximity to Grenoble remains to be seen, although Tim took this shot en route to the town the other day:
The breed is also popular in Ireland and there is a breed association in the UK. Montbéliarde crosses are growing in popularity in the US, and it seems as though Aussie Reds are looking into introducing Montbéliarde into their cross-breeding programme.
The local bovine hero is the Villard-de-Lans, another one of those endangered breeds kept in existence due to a targeted conservation programme.
Image: Kranky Kidz
They are a milk, meat and – originally – draft breed that originated in the Vercors plateau of Isère. A conservation effort was mounted in 1976 and it is believed that the breed would have been extinct by 1977 without this. The population is still very small, however there are now 338 cows across 51 herds. EuReCa (an EU-funded organisation aimed at preserving genetic diversity through conservation of regional breeds) monitors numbers annually, and notes that:
The breed is not enough publicized and we must make efforts to present the breed to the public and farmers.
So next time you are chatting with your French friends, start talking up the Villard-de-Lans! Why? Well, because it is one of only three breeds whose milk is allowed for the local AOC Cheese, Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage, the other two being the Montbéliarde and the Abondance (which we met yesterday). The cattle are grazed on pasture during the summer months and in winter are fed on hay and grass that’s been harvested during the summer. They are fed no silage, as it compromises the flavour of the milk. The cheese is apparently the only French cheese made by mixing evening milk that has been heated and cooled, with the raw milk from the following morning’s milking. If you’re in France for the Tour and thinking of spending a bit more time in the area, there is a Fête du Bleu on the 30th and 31st of this month. The website is in French, but even if you don’t read the language it’s worth a visit for the cow sounds and cute logo.
The Saint Marcellin cheese, described by Essjaymoo here, is also from Isère so if you bought some for stage 16 and have some leftovers, add it to a Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage for tonight’s cheese platter.