Stage 11: Blaye-les-Mines > Lavaur

Tonight’s stage takes us through Tarn, in the Midi-Pyrenees. The profile is undulating (or is “lumpy” the term du jour?) but with the big mountain stages to come, there are only two categorised climbs over the 167.5km.  Those of us watching on SBS will miss the first (category 3) climb 28.5km in but we’ll see the Côte de Puylaurens (category 4) at 135.5.

Tarn is a departement known for its cattle production, but not one that has an indigenous cattle breed.  It’s quite possible we’ll see some Blonde d’Aquitaine, which hail from the neighbouring Aquitaine region.  The Blonde is a relatively new breed and quickly gaining in popularity.  At nearly half a million animals they are gaining on the Limousin and Charolais in herd size, so we should be able to spot a few as we roll by.

Blondes clearly having more fun

Image: Farming in France

We could spot some of the aforementioned Charolais and Limousin, too, as well as some Salers and Aubrac.

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Stage 10: Aurillac > Carmaux

Hope everyone has had a good night’s sleep on the rest day – I know my fingers need a break from typing quickly “Les Vaches” and sending it to twitter.  If you do tweet, join us at @lesvachesdutour during the stages.  We’re there for general race discussion as well as cow spotting, and love a bit of a #trolldj guessing game.

As Le Tour heads off south again towards the Pyrenees (still!), we spend a couple of days travelling through the Cévennes mountains, with today’s ride featuring 2 category three climbs and 2 category four climbs and a downhill finish.

We’re all hoping for less crashes and more les vaches as we continue to the Midi-Pyrenees area.

We may see some Salers cows around today as this is their native region. This hardy breed dates back a long time and its winter milk (from when the cows are fed hay) is used to make Cantal cheese one of the oldest cheeses in France. Apparently Pliny the Elder mentions cantal cheese in his writings.  Cantal cheese is traditionally used in the cheesy mashed potato dish we told you about yesterday, Aligot.  The summer milk, from when the cows have been grazing on meadows and fresh grass, is used to make Salers cheese.

Image: jacme31

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Stage 9: Issoire > Saint-Flour

Tonight’s stage takes us through the Department of Puy-de-Dôme, in the Auvergne.  It has three Category 2 climbs, three Cat 3s and two Cat 4s, so there will be some slowing down to take in the scenery, which we hope will include cows.  This is Ferrandais and Charolais territory and we might spot some of those gorgeous Limousin as well.

The Ferrandais is from Puy-de-Dôme, which makes it particularly local, however it is also rare, being listed in my reference bible Cattle: A Handbook to the Breeds of the World as “endangered”.  By 1978 the herd numbered around 400 and a conservation programme was developed.  This may have saved the breed, a dual purpose milk and meat animal, from extinction although it could be too early to tell.  Numbers have increased to 500 cows, but the popularity of cross breeding them with the French Simmental, Montbéliarde and Salers might account for the slow growth in the purebred herd.

What'choo lookin' at? - Ferrandais

Image: Kranky Kids

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Stage 7: Le Mans > Châteauroux

And so, we leave the coast, Normandy and Brittany and head south, towards the Pyrenees. This first leg of the journey southwards is a long, flat, sprinter’s stage, skirting the edge of the Central Massif.  The start is in Le Mans, well known for it’s 24 hour car race and 24 hour races of anything else that moves and, of course, Les Vaches has a special cow-respondent in the area. @parisbug has a place in the country around Le Mans and Essjaymoo became enamoured with the bucolic shots of cows, dogs, trees, flowers and produce that were tweeted.  We’ve asked @parisbug to tell us a bit more about life, and the cows, of Le Mans.

“Le Mans is mainly known for the 24-hour car race that happens every June…but there is so much more to this town and region (the Sarthe) in France, both historically and food-wise.  Le Mans, the town, has been here since the 3rd century in one form or another and has one of the best preserved Roman Empire walls in all of Europe which encircle the medieval old town perched on a hill.  It’s one of our favourite places to go exploring and to dine.  Speaking of food, ‘Les Rillettes’ are a specialty in the Sarthe – a sort of pulled pork paté that has a permanent pot in our fridge! Ask a large number of French where la Sarthe or Le Mans is, and they may stare at you quizzically, mention ‘les rillettes’ and the Ahhh of recognition dawns on them. I can certainly relate to a food oriented geography.

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Stage 6: Dinan > Lisieux

And so today we cross over from Brittany to Normandy, named for the Viking settlers of the 9th Century.  Home of delicious, complex, fragrant Normandy Farmhouse Cider and site of the D-day landings during World War II.

Normandy is dairy cow heaven. Norman cheeses include CamembertLivarotPont l’ÉvêqueBrillat-SavarinNeufchâtelPetit Suisse and Boursin; and their butter and cream is high quality.  The cows of Normandy  are beautiful beasts, and I’d say that even if they weren’t believed to be descended from Vikings.  Their milk is rich and high fat and they are the third most popular dairy cow in France. They also produce fine, marbled meat.


Vaches Normandes – source Wikipedia used under Wikipedia Commons


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Stage 5: Carhaix > Cap Fréhel

We start another long flat stage in Carhaix, Finistère – from Finis Terreæ or The End of the Earth.  Quaint.  And long, and flat.

The cows to look out for here are the Pied Rouge and the Pie Noir  – same as last two stages, so we should be able to identify them easily.

Breton (or Brittany) cows have travelled the world, credited variously with giving rise to Quebec Jersey cows in Canada, Guinea cattle of Florida and even St Helier breed sent to New South Wales via the Channel Islands. They produce high butterfat, yellow milk and butter and have a yellow tinge in their skin.  A small cow which gave milk up to 18 months after calving they were popular with small land holders.

Three days in Brittany have left your cow-respondents with an enduring craving for crepes and cider.  Luckily – we knew just the place to put our cravings to rest for a few weeks at least , Roule Galette in Melbourne with its traditional buckwheat crepes.  We *tried* to order cows’ milk cheese fillings – we really did!  But they didn’t have any so we had to have goats cheese (which is more traditional anyway).



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Stage 4: Lorient > Mûr-de-Bretagne

Another day in Brittany and we are hoping to see a range of cows.  Those lovely Red Pied cows from yesterday’s post are not the only pied cattle of Brittany – the prized sighting tonight will be spotting one of the Pie Noir.


This breed was on the brink of extinction not long ago and at around 1600 head the herd is still small, but these bovines have attracted the support of some dedicated foodies who are credited with its re-emergence.  They are celebrated for their hardiness, their fertility, and the creaminess of their milk (the cows, that is, although perhaps the same could be said of their champions, the foodies).  The milk is used to produce cheese and the local yoghurt, gwell. “Huh, yoghurt, whatevs” I hear you scoff, but food blogger Carly describes gwell as one of the “five best dishes” she ate at a Slow Food conference.  You can read more about the Pie Noir and how its comeback has been carefully managed at the Slowfood Foundation page.

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Stage 3: Olonne sur Mer > Redon

Tonight we enter Brittany, which is famous for calvados, cider, galettes… but we should be able to spot some cows, too.

In particular, look out for the Pie Rouge des Plaines.  This striking red pied dairy breed was developed fairly recently in Brittany from the Amoricaine, and has outstripped its progenitor in popularity, with more than 25,000 of the Pie Rouge to the Amoricaine’s 300.

Pie Rouge des Plaines

Brittany might not have an AOC cheese to its name, but that is not to say that there is no cheese here. Some of it is even made from cow’s milk, which is also used to make lait ribot, a fermented milk drink, often consumed with the aforementioned galettes.  Butter is important to Breton cuisine (not that low/no salt stuff, either) so perhaps you could keep one eye on the Tour action and one on the creation of this Breton Butter Cake.  After all, we’ll still be in Brittany tomorrow, so you can eat it then.  Come on – how can you resist a recipe that calls for “an outrageous amount of butter”!

Stage 2: Les Essarts > Les Essarts

Today we  start and finish in Les Essarts, still in the department of Vendée.  The good news is that the team time trial has returned to Le Tour.  This means, of course, that we will be seeing the same scenery over and over again as team after team race the 23km loop. This will be fabulous for Team Vaches if the route passes a paddock of grazing cows as we are probably guaranteed to see them more than once, but it will be slim pickings if the only animals we see are on leashes in the crowd.  Keep looking out for those Parthenais from yesterday’s post.  If you see a strangely coloured one it might be a Nantais, which is described as a “parthenais of a different colour”.



Anyway, just in case this stage is cow-free, Essjaymoo has done some research and found a cheese!

Nantais/Curé cheese was originally made by the Curate (or Curé) of Vendée. It was brought into the region of Loire-Atlantic by a monk who was fleeing the Revolution.  The story goes that the area had no cheese when he arrived so I’m thinking he took the only cheese from Vendée with him when he went.  It’s a washed rind cheese, so it will be stinky like some leftover damp lycra.