Stage 12: Pau > Peyragudes

We have 214.5km of Pyrénéan climbing ahead of us! Will we see the French riders battle it out, or will they save their legs for tomorrow’s Bastille Day stage? ¿Por que no lo dos?

We are really in cassoulet country – think duck and goose confit, with beans and pork sausages, however there is a tradition of raising veal in these parts. The race guide tells me that the Lauragais veal is a specialty of the Haute-Garonne. The breeds used for producing this meat are the Limousin, Blonde d’Aquitaine, Montbéliarde and French Brown.

WP_20161130_09_08_59_ProImage: Le Veau Fermier du Lauragais

The veal farmers have helpfully collected some recipes for their produce. If you feel the Tour Snacks to date have been wreaking havoc on your cholesterol levels, we are in a region famed for its beans, so something beany might offset some of the excesses. I’m not exactly sure that this garbure is the answer, but it sounds mighty appealing.

Stage 8: Dole > Station des Rousses

In the official race guide, this stage prompts a trip down memory lane to a time way back in 2010 when the yellow jersey changed hands five times by stage nine. Ahhhh, good times. Will this 187.5 km stage spark the beginning of some interesting wardrobe changes? We shall see. We’re in the Jura and the climbs start just after the halfway point of the stage: Cat 3, Cat 2, Cat 1 with 10 km between the summit of the final climb and the Station des Rousses to potentially shake the finishing places up. Let’s hope the roadside randoms keep a respectful distance.

To the cows! We will be looking for Montbéliarde and French Simmental, as these produce the milk used for the local cheeses.

This is how they are likely to behave when buzzed by helicopters.

This is how Montbéliardes are likely to behave when buzzed by helicopters.

Image: Classiccardinal

Let’s start with the Comté, a semi-hard cheese that can only be called comté if it meets a number of criteria. One of these is that the milk must come from Montbéliarde or French Simmental, or cross breeds of these. The population density of the cattle is also mandated: no more than 1.3 cows per hectare (I’m not sure what that is in MCGs) . Cows must only be fed natural feed, and the milk has to go straight to the cheese maker after milking. There are a range of other qualifications as well as distinct gradings of the final product. It’s all worth it, producing a thoroughly delicious cheese!

Another local cheese is Morbier, which was traditionally produced with curd leftover from Comté production. The layer of ash in the centre of the cheese was to protect the curds from the morning cheesemaking, and then topped up from the evening leftovers. These days, the cheese is made in a mould, and then halved to add the ash or food colouring. Why not have one of each of the stage cheeses on a platter?

The Jean Bourdy Côtes du Jura Rouge 2013, which is The Drinks List’s selection for this stage, is recommended with a soft stinky cheese and charcuterie. Sounds like a pretty good Saturday evening in to me.

Stage 15: Bourg-en-Bresse > Culoz

Up, up, up! We’re back into the climbs with très nombreux points on offer for the pois competition today. This 160km stage has six categorised climbs, starting with the Cat 1 Col du Berthiand, starting at the 16.5km mark. Riders will then tackle the Col du Sappel, the Col de Pisseloup (a good spot for a natural break, you’d have thought) and the Col de la Rochette before the big one: the Grand Colombia which, according to Google Translate, means Large Dovecote. At 1,501m, that’s either a lot of doves, or one very lucky bird. There’s one final chance for the laces to come undone on the Lacets du Grand Colombier before the final descent into Culoz.

Will our Quintana disappointment continue? Will Froome add to his lead? More importantly, will we see vaches?

There should be cows… somewhere. There is a local blue cheese – Bleu de Bresse – made from cow’s milk, although it is not made from the milk of any specific breeds. Let’s be on the lookout for a variety of dairy cattle, then.

1024px-Vache_Montbéliarde

Montbéliarde

Image: PRA

You might not be able to find Bleu de Bresse here. It’s a creamy blue cheese, described by the Canada Cheese Man as “blue cheese for beginners”. His daughter might have a future in cycling commentary, as her description of this cheese is straight from the backhanded compliment playbook: “It was better than I thought it would be.” My advice, then, is to find a blue cheese you enjoy, and… enjoy it!

Anyway, since we are spotting general dairy cattle, I found this post about French farming by Tammi Jonas and thought it might be of interest. See you on twitter tonight!

 

Stage 14: Montélimar > Villars-les-Dombes (Parc des Oiseaux)

Paul Sherwen is going to be in heaven on this stage with its finish in a bird park. There are over 3000 birds, so expect lots of twitching in the commentary box. Given that the 208km course has been described as being more difficult than it looks, avoid choosing “false flat” as your drinking word, unless you plan on having a very quiet Sunday.

On the vache front, we could spot a number of different breeds. When we were in these parts in 2011 for the Grenoble time trial, we profiled the Villard-de-Lans and a cheese the milk is used for, Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage. Salon_de_l'agriculture_2014_-_Banbie,_vache_Villard_de_Lans

Image: HaguardDuNord

We are more likely to see Montbéliarde. We certainly spotted these a little east of this course a couple of times in the past.

As you’re unlikely to find the Bleu de Vercors-Sassenage, Saint Marcellin is another local cheese, and relatively easy to find.

Stage 18: Gap > Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne

…I thought that it was nothing more than a path to move sheep or cattle to and from their pastures!

Thierry Gouvenou, The Official Tour de France Guide 2015

The road he’s talking about is 10km from the finish of today’s stage and contains 17 (or 18, depending which part of page 201 you’re looking at) hairpins. And, presumably, opportunities to spot both vaches and moutons. It’s the last of the seven climbs in today’s stage, coming just after the descent of the HC Col du Glandon.

What cattle are we likely to see? The milk of the Montbéliarde from the last couple of stages, the Tarentaise (also known as Tarine) and the Abondance are used to create one of the region’s star cheeses, Reblochon, so keep an eye out for these alpine breeds.

Vache-tarentaise-et-le-lac-de-roseland-ferme--6614e1T650

Vache Tarentaise

Image: BlackSlash73

800px-Abondance_cow_profile

Abondance

Image: Walpole

If the Ps start muttering about caves again tonight, it might be because they hold some maturing Reblochon rather than a selection of bats. This washed rind cheese has a nutty flavour but a strong odour that is “not for the timid“, apparently. If you are preparing for Run Melbourne on the weekend, you might want to carbo-load with the reblochon-and-potato wonder that is tartiflette.

If Reblochon’s not your speed, there are many other alpine cheeses to choose from. The Savoie-Mont Blanc website proudly showcases the rest of the region’s cheesy wealth. Stock up and spend the rest of the week in a cheese coma. Sweet dreams!

Stage 17: Digne-les-Bains > Pra Loup

We’ve finally made it to the Alps! The riders have had a rest, as have we, so no doubt we’ll attack the five climbs in this 161km stage with vigour. From what I’ve read, the biggest challenge here is less about the fourth ascent (up the Cat 1 Col d’Allos) than it is about the descent before the final climb to Pra Loup. It looks to  head upwards from around the 55km to go mark with the summit of the Col d’Allos 33km later before a “technical” descent “to delight Nibali and cause anxiety for Froome”. The way Chris Froome is looking at the moment, I think it will take a lot to cause him anxiety.

Keep your eyes open for more Montbéliarde in these parts. Interestingly, although the number of farms has decreased sharply – from 106 in 1988 to 37 in 2010 – the amount of agricultural land has increased over the same period – from 1002ha to 2989ha – with farmers turning towards sheep and cattle breeding. I’m hoping this makes for some vache-tastic viewing.

800px-Comtois_et_Montbeliardes_0007

Image: Arnaud 25

Continue reading

Stage 16: Bourg-de-Peage > Gap

I’m guessing that at 177km mark when the peloton reaches Gap there won’t be a great deal of enthusiasm for the climb up the Col de Manse, particularly when they are only going to finish up at Gap again. It seems unnecessarily cruel just before the rest day. In Gap. I wonder if The Gap has a store in Gap? Clearly the SherLiggett enthusiasm for repetition is infectious. Race Director Thierry Gouvenou suggests that the Col de Manse is more challenging that it looks on paper, so has ruled out the sprinters for this stage. I think my predictions so far are 0/15, so I’m not even throwing a name out there.

Cows? Well, I’ve tracked down a fromagerie just north of Gap and it looks as though they use the milk of the Montbéliarde.

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 6.08.12 pmSee?

Vache Montbéliarde

Vache Montbéliarde

Image: PRA

The Montbéliarde, as we’ve discussed before, is a popular dairy breed, especially in these parts. There’s a lot more information about the Monty here but even if you’re not fascinated by somatic cell counts by lactation, it’s worth a click through for the cover photo and title.

There’s no specific cheese for this region that I’ve been able to track down, but if you check out the Ebrard Fromages au lait de vache range, I’m sure you’ll find a style you like.

Stage 13: Saint-Etienne > Chamrousse

Stage 13 contains the first HC climb of this year’s Tour de France, with the ascent to the finish at Chamrousse. Although the stage profile looks relatively passive for the first 134km with “only” a Cat 3 climb at the 24th kilometre, we could hear the phrase “false flat” fairly frequently. The second climb, the Col de Palaquit, starts at around the 138km mark and has some challenging 10+% sections. This climb hasn’t featured in the Tour before, which always makes me happy as it means no tedious comparisons to certain performances by certain past riders. There’s a descent into Grenoble, and then the climb to Chamrousse. Let’s see what Richie Porte can do tonight!

As far as vache-spotting goes, we could see some more Montbéliarde – in fact, I know we will. Last night’s Gaté preview primed us for the Taste le Tour segment featuring this breed. 

IMG_4324

Image: Injera

There is also a mystery beast that seems to come from this region. I can find nothing about it beyond a mention on the Isère Specialities page under “Livestock”, so I’d go ahead and identify any breed you don’t recognise as Chambarans.

Maybe the lucky bovines of Ferme des 13 fontaines are Chambarans cattle?

Have you ever heard of cows listening to the radio? Well, they do just that at the ‘ferme des 13 fontaines’ in Brézins! It is an ultra-modern educational farm where the cows decide when they are ready to be milked while having a snack. Stress? They do not know the meaning of the word and there is nothing they enjoy more than parading in front of the many visitors who go to this unusual milk farm. Would you like to find other milk producers ?

vache-brézins

Tourisme Bievrevalloire

What to eat? Well, Saint Marcellin is the local cheese we’re looking at today and by “looking at” I mean there was a tour group six deep outside my favourite cheese shop at the market, so I wasn’t even able to see if there was any available. A pity, because I do enjoy this cheese.

St. Marcellin is a delicate little cheese that requires protection from the world—so much so that it arrives at your home in a tiny terra cotta crock, sheltered from the bumps and bruises of commercial life. And for good reason, too. The rind of this cheese is almost non-existent at room temperature, and once warmed, even the gentlest prod of a cracker causes it to burst forth a fountain of sensuously unctuous cream.

Stephanie Stiavetti

Unctuous!

Gabriel Gaté uses this cheese, along with some crème fraiche and a terch of berter for tonight’s recipe, a zucchini flan.

If you are in need of a stage-appropriate winter warmer, reach for some Chartreuse. You won’t be sorry, unless you don’t like Chartreuse…