Stage 9: Arc-et-Senans > Besançon

It’s time for the race of truth, this time over 41.5km with a strategically placed hill at the 16.5km mark that is designed to bring the strong riders to the fore. Prior to the start of the race, Tony Martin was heavily fancied to take out this stage, but his early Tour scaphoid troubles will no doubt favour Cancellara. The battle we are waiting for is the one between yellow-jersey wearing Wiggins and second-place Cadel Evans. They will be the last two riders to depart, so if you need to nap, set an alarm so you don’t miss the excitement. Evans is scheduled for 12.36am AEST and Wiggins will set off at 12:39am – the full list can be found here. The course is said to be beautiful – which is nice for those of us who will be seeing it in detail over the course of the telecast – and a tailwind is forecast for today.

There are cows common to the greater area and, as usual, we will see them again and again or not at all. The first few riders will sort out the likelihood of vaches, after which we will all be able to relax and focus on the skinsuits race.

The first of the two breeds we will keep a particular eye out for tonight is the Montbéliarde. Strangely enough, we were in Montbéliarde country for the Grenoble time trial last year. Perhaps this is mere coincidence…

Image: Creative Genetics

The Monty, as the breed seems to be affectionately known, is one of the red pied breeds and belongs to the same family as the Simmental.  They are hardy and able to cope with extreme temperatures, whilst producing quality milk for the the cheeses their breeders have been making for centuries.

Another member of the Simmental family is the other cow we might spy today, the Tachete de l’Est. I was close to giving up on this breed, until I discovered that it is also known as the Pie Rouge de l’Est, or French Simmental. (This cow has so many aliases I’m beginning to think it’s in witness protection, so don’t feel bad if you fail to spot one.)

Image: Animal Instinct

 This particular example of the breed is Wanda, and she’s from Vermont. Janis, who writes a lovely blog about her life and herd, describes the French Simms as

Secretive.       Creative.      Spontaneous.    Determined.

According to my cattle bible, the French Simmental is larger than the Swiss and, whereas the Swiss is still used as a dual purpose breed, the French is more firmly in the dairy camp. If we fail to spot any today, we might be luckier once we enter the Bourgogne.

This is the Franche-Comté region, so the obvious choice of cheese for tonight is the Comté. This cheese is only made from the milk of the two cows we’ve featured for today’s stage. The cows are pasture fed during the summer at a density of a hectare per animal and are moved indoors for the winter months. This cheese uses a lot of milk – up to 600 litres per wheel – and in order for farmers to produce the quantities, they organised collective dairies, known as fruitières, to pool their milk for cheese production. The raw-milk cheese is cooked and pressed into wheels of 35 to 50kg. Whilst I’ve seen it described as a “French Cheddar”, the people who have put together this engaging website dedicated to the cheese have isolated 83 flavours. That’s a bit more detailed than “yum, nutty!”. Put it on your cheese board with the next cheese or, if you missed out on the Swiss fondue last night, make a Franche-Comté Fondue.

Saint Vernier is a cows milk cheese from Cléron, which is about 30km south of Besançon. This cheese is made from the milk of Montbéliarde cows and is washed in a local savagnin Arnois, which is said to give it a “delicate, sherry-like flavour“. Local cheese-clubbers, the Eat Our Way Up High Street crew, tasted this a couple of years ago and weren’t overwhelmed; this blogger, however, adored it. I guess you’ll have to track some down and decide for yourself!

Another option is the French Vacherin Mont d’Or, which is made from raw milk where the Swiss version from yesterday is pasteurised. It follows the same production schedule as its Swiss cousin, although there doesn’t seem to be a tantalising countdown clock online.


2 thoughts on “Stage 9: Arc-et-Senans > Besançon

  1. Pingback: Tour de France 2012 – Stage 9 (ITT) « Visible Procrastinations

  2. Pingback: Stage 20: Annecy > Annecy - Semnoz | Les Vaches du Tour

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