Stage 15: Laissac-Sévérac l’Église > Le Puy-en-Velay

Today’s 189.5km stage starts with a Cat 1 climb – the Montée de Naves d’Aubrac – which is quickly followed by the Cat 3 Côte de Vierauls. There’s a bit up up-and-down across the plateau, before a descent to Saint-Arcons-d’Allier and the climb up the Col de Peyra Taillade, a Cat 1 climb making it’s Tour debut. The final run into le Puy-en-Velay is a descent broken by the Cat 1 Côte de St-Vidal. I’m not sure whether he’s the patron saint of wit or good hair. We’re in Romain Bardet country, so I’m putting my money on the AG2R rider.

As we cross the Aubrac – for the first time! – keep an eye out for the pretty Aubrac cattle.

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Image: Michel Foucher

The 2014 census counted around 170,000 of this breed, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say the chances of a sighting are good.

As we near the end of the stage, we are back in the region of the AOC Fin Gras beef of Mézenc. This highly prized beef is raised on the Mézenc Massif. They spend two summers grazing above 1100m, and in winter they are fed on hay grown in the summer pastures, mixed with alpine fennel.  According to the Association, the cattle are

Salers, Limousine, Charolais and Aubrac in pure breed or in crossbreeding between them.
The cross between a female of race “Montbéliarde” or “Abondance” and a male race “Charolais” or “Limousin” is also accepted.

The beef is only available between February and June, so if you are in France right now… you’ve just missed out. A festival is held in the region on the first weekend in June, to celebrate the end of the season, with a parade of the cattle, markets and – naturally – dishes prepared with the beef. If you are in the area, La Maison du Fin Gras is a good place to learn more about the beef. They are currently running an exhibition called “Oh, les vaches!”.

Presented by the children of the school of Fay sur Lignon and Emilie Delmas, visual artist. Drawings, engravings … of cows!

Bless!

How good is the beef? Here’s a description from an old menu at the Alain Ducasse restaurant, Aux Lyonnais:

“Fin Gras du Mézenc” beef is a Designation of Origin that distinguishes heifers and steers reared on natural mountain grass and hay, in the heart of the Massif Central, respecting a traditional and secular method of rearing that gives the flesh a marbled texture of exceptional tenderness and aromas. A really unique product only available from March to July. It is so exceptional that our butcher Gabriel Gauthier compares selected heifers to « young girls in their Sunday best».

Okay, so that young girls in their Sunday best thing is creepy…

Why not simulate the Fin Gras du Mézenc experience, and try one of the Association’s recipes. You will need some help from Google translate if you don’t read French!

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Stage 6: Arpajon-Sur-Cère > Montauban

Today’s stage takes us through four departments as we head south-west. There are three climbs (Cat 3, 4 and 3 respectively) over the 190.5km route, which is described as “tortuous” by technical director Thierry Gouvenou. Greg van Avermaet starts the stage in yellow after his cracking win yesterday, with compatriot Thomas de Gendt in polka dots. Peter Sagan is likely to contest the sprint points at 77.5km to consolidate his lead in the green jersey competition.

I do have high hopes for vache-spotting this stage. Hopefully we will see some more of those lovely Salers if we join the coverage before the stage has progressed too much.

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Image: Twitter – Petite Vache

 

But the real reason I am optimistic is that the Tour website lists bovine breeding as a key element of the economy in Tarn-et-Garonne. It’s possible that we might spot some Aubracs.

(I love the way the music appears to stop rather dramatically at the point where the narrator makes a comparison with Angus…) We are also heading into Blonde d’Aquitaine country, so keep your eyes open for these beauties.

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Image JLPC

Obviously if you managed to get some Cantal cheese for yesterday’s stage and have any left, it would also be appropriate for this stage. I’m not sure how easy it is to source Laguiole cheese, a cheese made from the milk of the Aubrac and Simmental cattle. Each cheese weighs 40-50kg (or 25,720 – 32,150 pennyweights) and has a bull stamped into the rind. It’s often used in one of the well-known dishes of the region, aligot. If you haven’t tried aligot, you really want to. Trust me.

Both Discover Vin and The Drinks List have chosen malbec for this stage. Discover Vin suggest duck as a good match, or anything with truffles. It is, after all, truffle season! If you are not in a truffle frame of mind and fancy a steak, they have kindly provided a link to Neil Perry’s Cafe de Paris butter. Yes. Butter. Buuuuuuuuuutter.

Stage 14: Rodez > Mende

This is the last stage of the second third of Le Tour! Doesn’t time fly? If you are hanging out for a rest day, you might be concerned to see that there are still three stages to go before Tuesday’s chance to recuperate. I know I was!

Today’s 178.5km stage starts where we left off yesterday, climbing towards the Côte de Pont-de-Salars over the first 20 km, before descending to what looks like around 80km of false flats. Choose your tipple wisely. The last 40km contain three climbs, with a short but steep finish up the Côte de la Croix Neuve. I wonder if we’ll be exhorting Quintana to go, go, go and not look back? I hope so.

We are still in Aubrac territory.

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Image: Taste le Tour

It’s not often that I’d presume to guarantee a cow sighting, but Gabriel did preview these beauties at the end of last night’s Taste le Tour.  I have had some beef marinating for 24 hours for his Paleron de boeuf aux olives and I’m sure it will be just perfect for a winter’s night. If you’re still in a cheesy potato frame of mind, you could always try the other cheesy potato dish from yesterday’s stage. It’ll still be regionally appropriate!

 

Stage 13: Murat > Rodez

The big climbs of the Pyrénées are behind us and the Alps are a few days ahead. This 198.5km stage isn’t a flat sprinters’ stage, with three climbs in the last 60km, but hopefully we’ll see Team Sky relax a little and allow some of the non-GC contenders have a day in the spotlight. Perhaps this is time for Tommy V to justify that TV time and take a stage, although he’ll have serious competition from Peter Sagan.

As we leave the Pyrénées, we head towards Aubrac territory.

8549134537_2220b4ab5c_zImage: Jérôme Therond

Whilst not as scarce as the cattle we’ve tried to spot over the past few stages, they are certainly not as populous as the Charolais we’ve been seeing all over the place. They range in colour from fawn to brown – sometimes blonder and sometimes a tad darker than the one pictured – with white socks and a white-ringed nose. Originally bred by monks, they were used as a triple-purpose animal: draft, dairy and beef. According to my cattle bible, cross-breeding resulted in a faster maturing animal and the breed society was formed in 1914. A highly successful conservation program was launched in 1976; by 1979 there were around 80,000 Aubracs in France. Unfortunately a high rate of brucellosis infection was discovered in the herd. Today, the local population is estimated to be around 10,000.

What to eat for this stage? Well, the milk from Aubrac cattle was used in the Laguiole cheese, a key ingredient in the potato dishes of the region, aligot and truffade. You don’t need to spend too much effort tracking down Laguiole – it’s a tomme cheese so grab whatever cows milk tomme is available near you. The only real decision is which recipe to make?

 

Rest Day: Le Lioran, Cantal

So, the tour overnights in the small town of Le Lioran (which I can’t help but associate with DeLorian) in the Department of Cantal and it’s time to rest.  Time to dry off that lycra and air those shoes and take a break from spotting cows in the nearby hills.  Time for a decent feed, a glass of wine and a bit of a break from the hoopla around Le Tour.  After yesterday – I’m sure all  are looking forward to a break.

We, Les Vaches, are very pleased to share with you another “first person” perspective on this region of France.  This time  we’ve very pleased to share with you some remembrances from Nic Poelaert, chef/owner of Embrasse Restaurant in Carlton, Melbourne.  Nic grew up in Northern France, but spent holidays in the Auvergne Region. Voted  Young Chef of the Year 2010, his restaurant holds one hat in the Age Good Food Guide, and just a few weeks ago he won  Food Service Australia Chef of the Year 2011.

 

Chateau de Severac by Bro Yves via Wikimedia Commons

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