Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wed. 3/14/12: Goat farm in the Loire Valley

If you rent a car in France, don't do what we did, which is to say drive around without GPS or map.  I had looked into buying a GPS for France or buying the map set for the one we have for the U.S., and they were both about $100 - at that price you might as well hire a cab, or at least start to think about it.  I meant to ask about it at the rental agency but I just forgot, and in any case I suspect I would have had to rent a larger car, which I didn't really want to do because I wanted something that wouldn't use too much gas, given that we would need to spend about $7/gallon.  I had also tried to skirt international copyright law by scanning a few pages of a France road atlas I had checked out of the library, but when I tried to print it, it was so data-intensive that it backlogged my office printer for an embarrasingly long time so I aborted. In any case the atlas would not have provided us with the detail we needed, and we realized as we were driving that some of the roads (tunnels in particular) were very new and certainly would not have been on that 20-year-old atlas anyway.

We wasted several hours lost in the suburbs around Versailles.  (We weren't actually headed to Versailles.)  We finally found another Holiday Inn and stopped to ask for directions, thinking they would speak English.  One of them did.  We asked him for directions to Mareuil-sur-Cher, the town we were visiting in the Loire, and he said that was an excellent choice.  I asked him if he had been there.  He said no, but they make great wine there.  Anyways, they were very helpful and reprinted us directions, but the biggest help was that they directed us to a gas station where we were able to buy some maps, which were fairly helpful but not as detailed as we could have used - and no index.  What gives?

From there we regrouped and got back on the road.

Once on the Autoroute, everything went relatively smoothly.  Autoroute speed limit outside of cities is 130 kph, about 81 mph, about as fast as I was able to drive that small car.

Arrived at la Lionniere around 5:30 p.m.  This is a farm-inn (ferme-auberge), with 2 rooms that rent by the night including breakfast, and they serve dinners based on foods that they produce at the farm.  Apparently some people come only for meals.  I had booked 2 nights with dinner.

The owners, M. and Mme. Bouland, raise about 85 goats and also have chickens.  They sometimes have ducks but didn't when we were there, except for a single duck that seems to be a pet and is exempt from foie extraction.

Shortly after we arrived, we watched the goat milking.  They make cheese every day and sell it at some of the local markets.  The goats smelled much cleaner than most livestock or even petting zoos I have smelled in the U.S.  They definitely had a distinct odor but it was not offensive.

Everything at dinner was a product of the farm, which meant goat (chevre).   This did not bode well for my wife Nancy who is not a big fan of goat, but she was a good sport.

Goat cheese on bread as an hors d'oeuvre:  Cheese was surprisingly mild and soft, similar to cream cheese.  The bread tasted like it was a day old though.

Salad with grated hard goat cheese, similar to parmesan.  The cheese was pungent.  The lettuce was some kind of a winter lettuce, and was more rigid than any lettuce I had had before, somewhat like cabbage.  I really liked the salad

Goat cheese fritters:  The cheese was what I think of as goat cheese, semi-soft and with a strong flavor.  The dough that they were fried in I didn't really like; it tasted like all-purpose baking mix.

Goat meat: shoulder (epaule) and leg (gigot).  It was stewed and in a gravy. Texture was somewhat chewy but almost springy, yet tender.  My wife Nancy didn't like it at all; she thought that it tasted like the cheese, meaning that everything had the same smell of goat.  This was served with a side dish of potatoes and carrots.

After the meat, we were served the cheese course (you guessed it!  goat cheese)  and apple beignets.  For those of us who do appreciate goat cheese, this was delicious and everything one would hope for - as fresh as it can be, made in the next room. For the rest of us, not so much.  The beignets were just ok, with the same dough as the cheese beignets served before dinner.

I had consumed several glasses of wine and was getting very full and very tired.  Perhaps because I have a goatee, I thought it was pretty good, the cheese was great, although in total it did not live up to my expectations of the ultimate French country dinner.  Nancy didn't enjoy it at all.  We went upstairs and I fell asleep, although Nancy did not sleep well.  She found the bed very uncomfortable and she was having a difficult time with digestion.

Nancy used one of the other beds in the room (there were four, I believe) but she hadn't felt well all night.  By the next morning we decided to leave.  I had breakfast by myself - it was bread and butter with pear and quince jam (delicious) and coffee, but Nancy wanted out as quickly as possible once she was up.  Since I had reserved the room for 2 nights and they had refused other customers, I agreed to pay for the 2 nights plus the one night's dinner for the 2 of us, plus a small carafe of wine.  Total was 148 euros, cash only.  (room was about 48e per night including breakfast; dinners were about 22e each service compris; wine and coffee about 10e total.)

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