04 July 2015

Le Chavignol, a goat cheese

They seem to be trying to change the name of the goat cheeses made in the village of Chavignol and all around the Sancerre area. Everybody calls them crottins, but the word has bad or at least funny connotations. Crottins are what we call might call "droppings" or, in French, déjections. Manure, autrement dit, or dung. Now I see the cheeses referred to simply as Chavignols.


Apparently, the name crottin for the cheese comes from an old dialect word, crot, which meant a hole along the clay banks of a river or stream. Such holes filled with water and people did laundry in them. And that clay was used to make a container that curdled milk was poured into to form little goat cheeses, which then got the name crottin. You can read about it here, in French. It's a good theory.

The web site I've linked to says that nobody really knows when the little goat cheeses of Chavignol got the namec crottin. It might have been as late as the 19th century, even though goats have been raised in the area since at least the 16th century. When phylloxera wiped out the Sancerre vineyards in the late 19th century, making goat cheeses became the area's main industry. Nowadays, the wine-making and cheese-making industries thrive side by side, as in much of the Loire Valley.

One of the requirements for making Chavignol cheese is that the goat's milk be cru — unpasteurized. That's what the cahier des charges, or specification, for the Chavignol cheese AOC (granted in 1976) or AOP (1996) says. Other goat cheeses, including those of Selles-sur-Cher and Valençay near Saint-Aignan, can be made with frozen or even powdered goat's milk, which means that they are available not just seasonally but year-round. Maybe the same is true of Chavignol cheeses, at least the frozen milk part — what I've read isn't clear on that point.


There are only four affineurs, or companies that specialize in aging cheeses, in the Sancerre area. They buy cheeses from local farmers and mature or age them under controlled temperature and humidity conditions. The cheeses CHM and I bought back in early June were affinés by a company called Dubois Boulay, in Chavignol itself. As you can see from my photo above, it's a modern facility.

How we actually found the cheeses we bought is a whole story unto itself. We had driven toward Chavignol from the north, stopping on that high ridge to take panoramic photos of the village and of Sancerre. Then we drove down toward Chavignol on a narrow, winding paved road, which it turned out was closed by construction work. We had to turn around and drive back up the hill to where we had come from.


Then we drove all around the area to find a different route into Chavignol, but with no luck. We ended up stopping in a supermarket on the edge of Sancerre and buying goat cheeses there, along with a few bottles of the local wine. We drove up into the town of Sancerre to have a look around. Finally, as we were deciding to leave the area without actually seeing "downtown" Chavignol from close up, we found the way in. We drove past the Dubois Boulay cheese facility and through the village. There was no place to park, so we kept going.

The cheeses we bought at the supermarket were really delicious. In fact, they still are, a month later. I have two left. They are very dry and very hard. On the left is a map of the Chavignol cheese production zone that I found on the crottindechavignol.fr web site. Click or tap on it to see it at a larger size.



26 comments:

chm said...

I didn't know that the Chavignol goat cheese production area was that big for such a small village.

Ken Broadhurst said...

Geographically, I think, the Selles-sur-Cher, Valençay, and Ste-Maure-de-Touraine production zones are as big or even bigger.

Seine Judeet (Judith) said...

Yumm! :)

Ken Broadhurst said...

Look at this list of the communes where Selles-sur-Cher goat cheeses can be made.

DÉLIMITATION DE L’AIRE GÉOGRAPHIQUE
La production du lait, la congélation du caillé, la fabrication et l’affinage des fromages doivent être effectués dans l’aire géographique.

Département du Cher (18) : Brinay, Cerbois, Chéry, Dampierre-en-Graçay, Genouilly, Graçay, Lazenay, Limeux, Lury-sur-Arnon, Massay, Méreau, Méry-sur-Cher, Nohant-en-Graçay, Preuilly, Quincy, Saint-Georges-surla-Prée, Saint-Hilaire-de-Court, Saint-Outrille, Thénioux, Vignoux-sur-Barangeon

Département de l'Indre (36) : Aize, Anjouin, Bagneux, (Les) Bordes, Buxeuil, Chabris, (La) Champenoise, (La) Chapelle-Saint-Laurian, Diou, Dun-le-Poëlier, Faverolles, Fontenay, Fontguenand, Giroux, Guilly, Issoudun, Langé, Liniez, Lizeray, Luçay-le-Libre, Luçay-le-Mâle, Lye, Menetou-sur-Nahon, Ménétréols-sous-Vatan, Meunet-sur-Vatan, Migny, Orville, Parpeçay, Paudy, Poulaines, Reboursin, Reuilly, Saint-Aoustrille, Saint-Christophe-en-Bazelle, Saint-Florentin, Saint-Georges-sur-Arnon, Saint-Pierre-de-Jards, Saint-Valentin, Sainte-Cécile, Sainte-Lizaigne, Sembleçay, Valençay, Varennes-sur-Fouzon, Vatan, (La) Vernelle, Veuil, Vicq-sur-Nahon, Villentrois

Département du Loir-et-Cher (41) : Angé, Billy, Bourré, Candé-sur-Beuvron, (La) Chapelle-Montmartin, Châteauvieux, Châtillon-sur-Cher, Châtres-sur-Cher, Chaumont-sur-Loire, Chémery, Cheverny, Chissay-en-Touraine, Chitenay, Choussy, Contres, Cormeray, Couddes, Couffy, Cour-Cheverny, Courmemin, Faverolles-sur-Cher, Feings, Fougères-sur-Bièvre, Fresnes, Gièvres, Gy-en-Sologne, Langon, Lassay-sur-Croisne, Loreux, Maray, Mareuil-sur-Cher, Méhers, Mennetou-sur-Cher, Meusnes, Millançay, Monthou-sur-Bièvre, Monthou-sur-Cher, (Les) Montils, Montrichard, Mur-de-Sologne, Noyers-sur-Cher, Oisly, Ouchamps, Pontlevoy, Pouillé, Pruniers-en-Sologne, Rilly-sur-Loire, Romorantin-Lanthenay, Rougeou, Saint-Aignan, Saint-Georges-sur-Cher, Saint-Julien-de-Chédon, Saint-Julien-sur-Cher, Saint-Loup, Saint-Romain-sur-Cher, Sambin, Sassay, Seigy, Selles-sur-Cher, Seur, Soings-en-Sologne, Thenay, Thésée, Valaire, Vallières-les-Grandes, Veilleins, Vernou-en-Sologne, Villefranche-sur-Cher, Villeherviers

Ken Broadhurst said...

I finally found this map of the Selles-sur-Cher production zone. I knew I had seen one before.

LaPré DelaForge said...

Our boulanger does a very nice savoury puff-pastry flap....
filled with Crottin de Chavignol... not one of their cheaper buys....
but superbly tasty nontheless!!
And it proudly says the full name of the cheese on the label...
I think they might have a long road ahead to change it!

Tim

Diogenes said...

The map is quite helpful.

I heard that word they're trying to change used often in Montreal, Maybe it is a variation of grotto or grotte?

If the cheese is dry and hard, is it in texture like a Parmesan that has to be shaved?

Susan said...

When I've talked to the cheese specialists we know they all rate Chavignol highly. According to Rodolphe le Meunier in total tonnage Chavignol is not as big as Selles or Ste Maure, but in numbers of cheeses considerably more (because the individual cheeses are smaller). I'm very surprised to hear that you can use frozen or powdered milk and still be AOC for Selles and Ste Maure. I'll try to remember to check that with Rodolphe or Jean-Luc Bilien (Selles and Ste Maure producer in Pontlevoy) next time I see them. Maybe you can use frozen or powdered for the reason of seasonality that you suggest, but nobody does these days -- they put the goats into offset cycles so they get milk from half the herd all year round.

Ken Broadhurst said...

There are 233 communes in the Valençay production zone! I also saw an article saying that much more Sainte-Maure cheese is produced than Chavignol, and that Chavignol and Selles-sur-Cher are produced in about the same amounts.

Ken Broadhurst said...

That's exactly what I plan to do with the hard Chavignols, Diogenes. I'll grate them like parmesan and use them in salad dressings or over pasta and sauce. I've done that before with great success — goat cheese with a cream sauce over pasta is excellent.

Ken Broadhurst said...

I skimmed through the Selles-sur-Cher cahier des charges and it talks about the use of frozen goat's milk being allowed. Maybe the practice is not common these days — that I don't know.

Ken Broadhurst said...

And D., the word crotte is used as an exclamation in French. It's a euphemism for merde. Crottin derives from crotte but the origin of crotte is given as incertain in the Robert dictionary. Crotte de bique is an expression I've heard. And a person who is hopelessly dumb, thick, or unrefined can be describes as indécrottable

Ken Broadhurst said...

That croustillant or friandise (or whatever they call it) made with goat cheese sounds delicious. I think it would be good made with any of the Centre-Val de Loire goat cheeses.

I should have added that crottin describes a very small goat's cheese, like the ones made in Chavignol. A crottin can be made outside the Chavignol area and can be called a crottin but not crottin de Chavignol of course.

Bob Rossi said...

I have a feeling that the DUBOIS-BOULAY facility was not at that location when we were in Chavignol 30+ years ago. I seem to remember a producer, maybe it was this one, right in the center of the village, and not so modern-looking.

Evelyn said...

I like the name crottin. I plan on tasting this cheese next month. Miam, miam.

LaPré DelaForge said...

I seem to remember driving around Chavignol and failing to find anywhere to park or buy cheese, too! We should have looked further afield, obviously. Pauline

Diogenes said...

Hi Ken, I knew crotte was a variation of merde, lol, but I had to look up "bique." That made me laugh out loud with my coffee...it has several definitions.

Margaret Smith said...

Re the heat and no air conditioning. A search for "do it yourself air conditioning" on YouTube brings up a number of instruction videos for making clever and very cheap DIY air conditioners. Haven't tried any as we have ducted AC in Australia, but looks like it could work a treat, at least in the sort term.

NotesFromAbroad said...

This makes me miss my husband. He loved goat cheese, he used to say, "the goatier the better" ... I always complained about the smell of the cheese :) Just this photo of the soft cheese, would make him sigh ..

Margaret Smith said...

We ate in a village cafe once which had English translations on the menu and were amused to see "crottin de chevre en galette" translated as "droppings of goat on wafer" and "oeuf au cheval" as "egg with horse"

Ken Broadhurst said...

Our heat wave seems to have ended for now. It's still a little muggy — it's raining. But the temperature is in the 20s rather than the 30s. No need for AC now.

Ken Broadhurst said...

Some of those translations can be hilarious.

Ken Broadhurst said...

The Loire Valley goat cheeses don't smell or taste too "goaty" in my opinion. They're mild. And the crottin in my photos was a very hard, dry, crumbly one, not soft at all. Photos can be deceiving, I guess.

Ken Broadhurst said...

I've found it's easy to feel lost on the little roads that run up and down steep hills around Sancerre. But all is well that ends well.

Ken Broadhurst said...

We'll have to find a good cheese shop. I know one on the rue de Sèvres in the 6th. I'm sure there's a good one on the rue Montorgueil too.

Ken Broadhurst said...

The Dubois Boulay building looks like a brand new one to me, but I don't know the history. The sign does say the company has been in business for more than a century.