A Personal History of Goat Cheese
The first goats. Lassie dies. Advice from Mme. Rillier.
Reinette gives birth. Farmstead cheese for sale.
“How much are they?” Donald asked as we stood in the heart of a stone barn in the hinterlands of Provence, surrounded by horned animals whose eyes were focused, unblinking, on us. Ethel, our three-year-old daughter, held my hand. The animals pushed against me, nuzzling my thighs and nibbling at the edge of my jacket. In the faint light cast by the single lightbulb suspended from the ceiling, I could see the dark mass of goats stretching toward the recesses of the barn and feel their slow but steady pressure as they pushed closer and closer. My nostrils filled with their pungent odor and the fragrance of the fresh hay on the barn floor, with the faintly damp, earthy aroma of the floor itself, and with the scent of all the animals that had preceded them in the ancient barn. The heat of their bodies intensified the smell, and although it was a cold November day, the barn was warm and cozy. Its earthy aromas were homey and comforting.
“Eh, ma foi. It’s hard to decide. How many do you want? They’re all pregnant. They were with the buck in September and October. They’ll kid in February and March.” The shepherd, a woman, leaned heavily on her cane, making her look older. She was dressed in layers of black, including black cotton stockings, the kind you see in movies set in prewar France, her only color a dark blue parka and a gold cross at her throat. A black wool scarf tied under her chin covered her hair.
We wanted to have enough goats to make a living. Our calculations, based on the University of California and USDA pamphlets we’d brought with us when we moved to Provence a month before, were that a good goat would give a gallon of milk a day and a gallon would make nearly a pound of cheese. French friends had told us that we could make a living with the cheese produced from the milk of twenty to thirty goats.
“Why are you selling them?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m getting too old to keep so many. I have more than thirty.” She looked around, then pointed at a large, sleek goat, russet and white. “I can sell you that one. Look at her. She’s a beauty. Reinette, the little queen, I call her. She’s a good milker, about four years old. Always has twins too.”
She moved across the barn and grabbed the goat by one horn, put her cane under her arm, and pulled back the goat’s lips. “Take a look. See how good her teeth are. She’s still young.”
Reinette was released with a slap on her flank and went over to another goat standing aloof from the others. This one had a shaggy, blackish brown coat and scarred black horns that swept back high over her head.
“This is Lassie. She’s la chef, but getting old like me.”
I expected the woman to cackle, but she didn’t. Instead she sighed and said, “She’s getting challenged by some of the younger goats now, but she’ll be good for a few more years.”
Donald walked over to the goat and stroked her head. She stared at him with her yellow eyes and inky-black pupils.“What others are you selling?”
“Mmm. I could sell you