On a tour around the bewitching and beautiful Berry Province in the Loire Valley, Chavignol is a must see for cheese lovers. A great place to stop off for a nibble…
Chavignol is a little village with a big reputation. It is the home of a cheese called the Crottin de Chavignol.
It is a pretty town enclosed by hills laced with glorious vinyeards and walnut orchards which respond lovingly to the temperate climate and special terroir of this area known as Sancerre. Chavignol is very small, you can drive through it in minutes, but if you do, you’ll miss out on a real treat because this is the perfect place to stop and discover the famous little crottins they’ve been making around here since the 16th Century – and they are delicious.
I popped into Chèvrerie Patricia Godon in Menetou-Ratel at the foot of Chavignol to meet the goats and taste the cheese that this family owned business has been making for five generations.
Madame Godon is retired though she still helps out in the farm from the early hours and her sons now run the farm and the family’s vineyard. Monsieur Godon explained that the 170 alpine goats on the farm are kept solely for milking and to achieve AOC requirements (AOC was granted in 1976) they must be fed cereal and grass grown locally. Crottin de Chavignol can only come from these types of goats. He says making Chavignol goats cheese is hard work, it is all by hand and at certain times of the year he and a small team work around the clock.
I asked the cheese maker what crottin meant “it’s an old French word for a lamp that was used in the old days to light the cheese cellar” he said. I’d heard elsewhere that it also means a goat or sheep dropping and I must say the little cylinder shaped cheeses do bear a similarity.
In the cheese making room the scent of the freshly made cheese is pungent and sharp and the wet cheese glistens in the moulds. In the shop the different Chavignol cheeses look scrumptious in the cabinet and when the farmer offers a taste of the delicious cheeses there is no hesitation on my part. The cheeses are sold at different ages and get more complex with time as they dry out and become smellier and more intense, dense and unctuous. The older cheese gives off an odour of undergrowth that is much prized. With age the colour of the cheese changes as a natural mould develops on its rind, turning it from white to light brown and blue. I loved the creamy, nutty young goat’s cheese nuggets which are like a clotted cream dream that married a cheese queen. It is delicious – even more so when anointed with a glass of Sancerre wine from the family’s own vineyards, exactly as it should be eaten.
In Chavignol I stayed at the hotel La Côte des Monts Damnés. The rooms are huge with beds that you can pretty much camp in, and most have mezzanine floor sitting rooms and the views over the town and vineyards are sublime. The hotel is is run by Jean-Marc Bourgeois who is the grandson of Chavignol’s most famous vigneron, Henri Bourgeois, a ten generation wine maker. After working in prestigious houses such as La Côte Saint-Jacques in Burgundy, and Taillevent Apicius in Paris, Jean-Marc opened the restaurant La Côte des Monts Damnés. The gastronmique restaurant and bistrot are amongst the most prestigious eateries in the area. It is the perfect place to taste the local produce and wines and the night I dined at the Bistrot, it was packed with locals, wine makers and tourists – always a good sign.
I couldn’t resist the salade de Chavignol chaud (salad with hot cheese) and the skewers of beef with a hot Chavignol cheese sauce which was utterly delicious. There is a superb wine list as you’d expect (not just the family wines, its a very big list) so I let the waiter choose for me, it was perfect.
This being France, you are encouraged to sit and enjoy the experience of eating and drinking and I certainly did, believe me I slept like a baby afterwards in that lovely comfy bed!
lafermedeschapotons.com; montsdamnes.com; Berry Province Tourism; Loire Valley Tourism