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Three months later I set out for Clermont- Ferrand and a date with my cheesedestiny. Crazy thoughts filled my head: would my ‘Long-Lost Love Cheese’ have changed? Would that distinctive taste and look be the same as the memory buried in my sub-conscious? Corinne had arranged lunch at La Fromagerie Nivesse. She laughed at my nervousness. It felt like a first date. The waiter fussed around, recommending a local wine. I couldn’t sit still. I pushed past the queue of hungry customers to look at the vast counters of cheeses, trying to spot ‘her’…I felt overwhelmed by the dozens and dozens of products…but, then, there in the corner by the door, nearest to where we were sitting, almost as if ‘she’ was wanting me to see ‘her’ first, was my ‘Long-Lost Love Cheese’. There was no mistaking the soft angle of ‘her’ flanks, the delicate pale crust, outlined by darker dustings of ash, and the creamy skin. The hub-bub of the shop faded away as I bent over to gaze at this object of desire that had taken ten years to find. Now to taste! Before us was a plate of charcuterie, fruit, bread, and a selection of six local cheeses. I only had eyes for one. I gently slid a slice onto a piece of bread, and, oh! The first eruption of pleasure at the creamy inside overwhelmed me. Then the velvety sensation of the crust dusted with a complex bite of ash followed. Every-thing I’d remembered came flooding back. A mouthful of wine, and then another slice. The emotion of the moment I had waited ten long years for held me. I savoured it to the full. “So, it is your cheese?” Corinne chuckled. No need to respond. My silly grin said it all. “I have arranged for you to visit the farmer who makes your Love-Cheese” Corrine said, “He is expecting you this afternoon”. It took a while to find La Côte Courtesserre. Forty minutes east of Clermont, the GPS got me to the general vicinity, but I couldn’t find it. So I did the commonsense thing and explored every lane, every track, every byway, until eventually I spotted a field with a flock of goats.
This must be it! Sure enough a handpainted sign announced ‘Fromage de Chèvre fermier. J-B Navaron’.Jean-Baptiste peered thought the window of his tiny dairy as I pulled up. I’d interrupted his cheese-making but smiling, he explained he’d taken over his parent’s farm about eleven years ago and had around a hundred and twenty shegoats and a few billys. Out of sight was a small herd of cows. It was an idyllic spot, cresting a gentle hill, the Chaîne des Puys dormant volcano range is the backdrop. It was clearly not chance that my cheese mimicked the shape and exact angle of the slope of these giants. I asked Jean-Baptiste about his day. “I get up at six-thirty and milk the goats and cows”, he smiled. “On your own?” I asked. “Just me. I do it for love. For passion. Every single day. My last holiday was three years ago. Then I go to a Farmer’s Market or take my cheeses to shops like La Fromagerie Nivesse. Back in the afternoon to make more, around sixty a week” He produces four goat, two cow, and one mixed types. Mine didn’t really have a name, he explained, “Customers give their own name”. The Long-Lost Love Cheese with no name I thought. I was too shy to tell him. We crossed the track, negotiated an electric fence, and he called to his goats. They flew down from the hilltop to surround us, a joyful, nuzzling, inquisitive bunch, sleeklycoated and happy. I’d reached the pure source of my lovely cheese, a contented farmer, with his contented animals. Thus my story ends, but with a twist. In 2013 I had a heart attack, and as part of a healthier regime, decided I would forsake cheese. The taste of my Long-Lost-Love Cheese was the first I’d had for three and a half years. I’m happy and at ease now. I’ve found her, and having savoured the taste, I’ve given up cheese again. But I have the memory. Michael Cranmer travelled courtesy of Atout France and auvergnerhonealpestourisme.com
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