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.
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!
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!