Mid-Master’s – retrouve-moi au café

I’ve been insanely busy with school, my internship, and my volunteer work on the Board of my choir. Thus, not much time for blogging these days.

Recipes I’ve made lately that I might get around to posting include balsamic-roasted mushrooms with special umami salt as well as brown-butter cookies with pistachios and chocolate, although I wish I had dried cherries or candied orange rind to put in there too.

I’m in crunch mode for my mémoire so I’ve been rotating through cafes, libraries, and my bedroom.

I highly recommend Dose on the rue Mouffetard, even though it’s small. The baristas are so nice (they tutoyer-ed me!) and they have a stamp card (I’m a freak and I actually save up frequent buyer things to get my perks). And obviously good coffee.

And I love Institut Finlandais, right next to my Sorbonne classes. The baristas are very nice and I like how spacious it is. They have nice art exhibits on the giant wall and in the front you can buy cute expensive pillows and such.

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Hello cappuccino.

Back to work!

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Entretien

Awhile back, I mentioned that I had a terrible experience during my interview for the 2nd year of my program. For at least a month after, the only emotion I could attach to the memory was anger – at the mean jury, at the frustrating French academic system, and at myself. The more time that passed, the less I cared (it helped that I was accepted into a different Master’s program that I love – distraction). In fact, more than six months later I can only say that it was beneficial to me.

My classmates and I, after repeatedly hassling the program director, were told that our acceptance to the Master 2 in Gestion et administration de la musique would be principally based on a 30-45 minute interview.

I spent several months researching and preparing my thesis proposal for the interview. I discussed the topic with friends and my parents and felt really excited about it. However – and while it’s painful to admit this, I’m hoping if someone else reads this they might avoid making the same mistake – I never practiced presenting it in French. While my level of spoken French has gotten really good, last June I wasn’t at the point where I could improvise academic ideas au pif. The combination of a few different unclear versions of the interview schedule and my anxiety about it caused me to arrive early – like, a few hours early. I just sat in the waiting area and prepared a bit more, thinking it would be no problem. This earned me a slightly grumpy comment from the professor about lunch being soon, but that they would see me anyways.

Beginning the interview with this feeling of having done something horribly wrong made me super nervous. I gave a stuttering, unclear summary of my proposal, and (shockingly) the jury wasn’t impressed. They subjected me to 10 or 15 minutes of questions, punctuated by eye-rolling, incredulous reactions to my feeble attempts to clarify my ideas, and belittling of the professional experiences I used to justify my answers. They asked if I had read something that I had cited in my application. I understand that professors are busy and don’t necessarily read everything, but the condescending tone in which the question was delivered was totally uncalled for. After all that, of course I fell for a trick question about copyright since I was so flustered from the first part!

It was a total disaster. I hated feeling like I’d said all the wrong things. I worked so hard the whole year only to totally blow it in one session. I found this really unfair and it’s where my dissatisfaction with the French academic system lies – why even bother going to class or doing any work if your advancement to the next level depends only on your ability to verbally defend a research proposal that will probably change later anyways? Yes, I am still glad I attended classes and made an effort to study because I get more out of school than just grades. But still…I don’t get why it’s set up that way.

I feel less pissed about this now, because a. I was accepted into a different Master’s program so I was able to continue in graduate school in my field and b. if I hadn’t gotten into any school, it would have been upsetting but I would have moved on. Despite that, the concept of school being a straight-up competition – not competitive, but an actual “concours,” or race – still feels foreign to me. It’s just not how we do it in the US, so I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that.

At first, I thought the only good thing about the whole thing was that I had just completed the worst interview possible. At least in the future, I told myself, I would automatically be fabulous by default. But with time and reflection, I realized that while oh so painful, I learned some really useful things.

Practically speaking, I know exactly what I need to do to prepare myself for this kind of situation – think through my thoughts and ideas, write them down, then practice them in front of someone else and ask for feedback. (The same basic principle is true in performing, and I should have known better!) Because it was all so clear in my head, I thought I was so well prepared. Luckily, a few weeks later I had a second chance in my interview for my current degree. I did a practice interview with a nice co-worker of mine, and had a great interview, the kind that turns into a conversation that moves beyond the standard questions.

After these two experiences, I know concretely how to prepare myself in the future, which is really valuable.

Despite my grievances with the French system and the whole process, I see the value in having gone through it. I know what to expect for my thesis defense and for future job interviews if I stay here longer. I take classes from all three of the jury members this year, so it was good for me to just get over myself and move on – plus they might not even remember my interview since they have so many students (at least that’s what I tell myself – and recently one of the professors called me Delphine a bunch of times in class so I think I’m right!). And if I do end up back in the US, I think any interview will feel like a love-fest compared to what I’ve been through here! Always looking on the bright side…

Have you ever had a similar experience? Have any advice?

La REcyclerie

Iiiiii am so happy that this unique place exists! I have some of my classes as well as my stage (=internship) at Porte de Clignancourt, a mention of which usually doesn’t elicit sighs of jealousy from my friends. Ok, so it’s not Saint Germain. However, real people live and work in this area, and there are some hidden treasures next to the Macdo, KFC and un-classy stores selling imitation shoes and suitcases – beautiful music performed by conservatory/Sorbonne students for affordable prices at one of the campuses of Paris-Sorbonne University (this is where I study and work, shameless marketing plug alert), an antique market every weekend, stores like this with cheap vintage clothes just waiting to be dug up, and now, La REcyclerie!

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Upon entry of La REcyclerie

Where to begin? There are so many great things happening in this place. It is located right inside the old, abandoned train station that was part of la petite ceinture (basically the pre-Métro – great photos here). It is a restaurant, bar, cafe, event space, all with a no-waste, green ethos. And yes, I see the irony in my writing a blog post on my Macbook Air about an association whose philosophy is centered around low-tech things, but hey…the new generation gets their information online, so I’m providing it. They have frequent workshops – DIY eco-beauty products, and events where you can use their tools for free to give new life to broken furniture and things. I love the spirit behind that.

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Lamb brochettes

The inside is spacious and light-filled with plenty of seating options. The canteen-style food is based on regional themes that change weekly. The week I ate there was Moroccan week, and it was good! It’s definitely the best option for lunch in the quartier – I must say that I’ve had my fill of CROUS food.

I’ve also popped in just to study and write – the espresso is good and I love that they have sirop à l’eau for just 1€. And because the space is so big, there are no glares from the servers, and did I mention there is free wifi?

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La terrasse

Ok so I saved the best for last: you can also go outside to a long, narrow terrasse right next to the old tracks, which faces a community garden and is right under the chicken coop! It’s so nice to be in a space like this instead of directly on the street like most cafes.

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Looking back at the cafe from the terrasse

A friend had her birthday here a few weeks ago.  Though there were many people there that night, it didn’t feel packed like every other bar here.  There is so much space for everyone to spread out!  No sweating and shouting to be heard on a Friday night?!

La REcyclerie
2 rue Belliard
75018 Paris

Food + Drink in Lisbon

Note to self: never listen to French people when discussing the cuisines of other countries. Everyone I spoke to before going to Portugal told me the food was bland, that it was a meat-centric cuisine and that they were incapable of cooking it nicely. This made me worried for Ottilia (vegetarian). But we were surprised and delighted by the number of vegetarian restaurants we saw while strolling around. Sometimes it felt like we were in San Francisco, not Portugal! Many places seemed to be very French-influenced or otherwise global.

While exploring one day, we took note of one place, Planeta Bio, that looked nicer, and returned there on our last night in Lisbon. At 8pm, we were the only diners! (Later on, we walked by and noticed that it was packed and there was now a wait. It’s such a late-night city!) There were only 4 options on the menu, and you chose small or big and 2 or 3 dishes. That’s it.

Planeta Bio

Planeta Bio

Between the two of us we tried everything! There was moussaka, leek lasagna, leek gratin, and seitan korma. It came with a delicious, fresh salad and a choice of couscous or brown rice. Our only complaint was that it was not spicy enough. I suppose we could have asked for some sauce or something…anyways, it’s so nice to get healthy food like this while on vacation!

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One day we did a walking tour to learn a little bit about Lisbon, and afterwards we strolled around the winding cobblestone streets in the older part of town. I saw a sign for 1€ wine so of course I had to stop. We ended up stopping for a small glass of the green wine typical of Portugal and fell in love with the charming, cave-like bar. The woman who worked there was so nice, and there were plenty of lovely local liqueurs, sardines, honey, etc. that would make great gifts.

food and drink in lisbon

Yummy things to buy

ceiling of Enoteca Chafariz do Vinho

The ceiling

Another unique experience was checking out Enoteca Chafariz do Vinho, a nice little wine bar in a converted well-head/fountain space. It was a calm and romantic space, with sort of slow service but very nice people working. I have so much respect for waiters who have to walk up and down stairs, especially with tall bottles and delicate glasses! Anyways, I just really wanted to try some porto and they had several different types. We also got a chocolate mousse to share – it was more of a pot de crème or pudding than a mousse, but whatever the name it was chocolate-y and rich. Come here for very nice wine and a relaxing, chill ambiance – if I went back I would love to do the tasting menu!

wine bar in Lisbon

Looking down from the upper level

Switching gears to a more simple dining experience – we went to the modern area near the airport on the recommendation of someone from our hostel. This area was updated for the Expo ’98 and it looks quite different from all the cobblestone streets and tiled buildings found elsewhere in Lisbon. We rode the Telecabine and had a fun time checking out the view of the water, and when we got hungry we found an unassuming little restaurant that ended up being a great find!

Good views in Lisbon

View of the modern side of Lisbon from the skycrawler

roast chicken at waterfront Lisbon restaurant

Rice, fries, and a little salad were included with more than one meal we had – a strange but oddly satisfying trend in Lisbon

Unlike most other places we’d been to, not much English was spoken but we got by with hand gestures and saying a mix of Spanish and French words. Ottilia’s omelette was 4€ and my roast chicken was fabulous. Nearby diners were eating lots of different fish dishes that looked good for someone who loves seafood. I would 100% eat there again! I can’t find the name of the restaurant, but from some sleuthing on Google maps I believe the address is 103 on the street parallel to Rua Bojador and the waterfront, right around the corner from the north entrance of the Telecabine.

yummy portuguese restaurant

Planeta Bio
R. Francisco Sanches 39,
1170-141 Lisboa, Portugal

O Cantinho da Rute
R. Sao Miguel, 79
Lisboa, Portugal

Enoteca Chafariz do Vinho
Praça da Alegria
1250-000 Lisboa, Portugal

Other Lisbon posts:

Hostel
Cheese shop

Lisb’on Hostel

This is the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed in. There was lots of common space, comfortable and clean rooms, and it was well-located being close to the water and lots of bars and restaurants and the metro.

The building was very old, redone but with the original spirit preserved. It was charming but functioning. The computers and printing abilities were also handy.

The common room

The common room

The garden in back was fabulous – hammocks, beanbags, chill music, and cheap drinks available at the hostel bar (1,20€ sangria, 1,50€ wine). Sometimes we didn’t even want to venture out!

View of garden from above

View of garden from above

The roof terrace had a great view – and some really cute, built-in chairs – but no food or drinks allowed was lame (to respect the neighbors).

Terrace

Terrace

Big drawer storage under each bed, with a lock, was much appreciated.

Stunning views from certain rooms, complete with window seats, were breathtaking.

There are pub crawls every night – we did one once and it was fun! Our guide was from Lisbon. Some of his friends stopped by the bars, so it was interesting to meet some locals that way. There were lots of people on the street that would try to sell pot, sunglasses, and other things – unexpected, and a bit sad.

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Some things were not so great…

Generally, the hostel employees were very helpful, but a few times we were ignored, which was irritating.

They require guests to wear paper bracelets to be allowed to exit and enter, and it felt like we were at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for four days. It got itchy, sweaty, and annoying after awhile!

The plumbing caused gross smells to happen in the bathroom/shower rooms. (When discussing it with some people we met, one of them mentioned that because of the old plumbing in Portugal toilet paper is not flushed but thrown into a bin next to the toilet. If this is the case, the hostel should put signs up so that all the foreign people staying there don’t ruin the pipes!)

Lisb’on Hostel
Rua do Ataide, 7A
Lisbon, Portugal 1200-034

Other Lisbon posts:

Cheese shop
Food and drink

WWOOFing in Jumilhac-le-Grand, France

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Yup, I’m that weird girl who felt the need to go back to a goat farm in a very small town in France.

My first wwoofing experience was so unexpectedly eye-opening that instead of taking the risk and trying a new farm, I went back to the same one. I made a connection with the people and animals at this farm so I wanted to return. It was cool to come back and see what had and hadn’t changed since about a year and a half ago, and to increase my knowledge of the organic lifestyle. If one of the main goals of wwoofing is to inspire people to incorporate organic and sustainable activities into their daily lives, then they have succeeded. I am planning to try to grow some tomatoes and herbs on my terrasse next spring/summer, and I want to make an effort to eat more seasonally.

That's me leading Olek the horse and Génoise and Éra the cows

That’s me leading Olek the horse and Génoise and Éra the cows

As a non-vegetarian and a non-pet owner (although I want my own cat so bad), I am not the most animal-obsessed person in my life. I really enjoy being around animals though – being more familiar with the farm this time around allowed me to pay attention and form little bonds with individuals goats and other animals. There was a 2-month old baby boy goat who was allowed to stay with the 100 or so lady goats. We quickly became “friends” during la traite, since he would come up to me and want to be pet, and try to eat my clothes. So adorable! I had to be reminded several times that he would grow up to be a huge goat and no, I could not take him back to Paris with me. Sadface.

He has no name yet but it's the year of J names

He has no name yet but it’s the year of J names

As part of the work team of the farm for the week, I witnessed the highs and lows of life on the farm. One day, most of the goats escaped from a field with normal grass to a neighboring one that held a different type of grain, not to be consumed at this time of year by the goats. The following day, they had horrible diarrhea – it was pretty disgusting. Gundula, Louise, and Maëva handled most of the dirty work, but I did help a bit with la traite and was terrified that they would poop on me (one of them did on Gundula!). The daily cleaning of la chèvrerie took much longer that day since we needed to put a ton more hay and straw down to absorb it all. More importantly, the reaction to the grains that caused them to get sick is potentially fatal, and can also have effects on the goats’ milk production. Luckily, they healed the next day, but it was a smelly reminder of the perils of farming. Just like that, all the “tools” needed to produce one’s product could perish.

bio

bio

On to less stinky subjects…it was a good choice to come in the height of summer. I ate fresh, organic, local tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and onions in some form every single day. The mirabelle plum trees were perfectly ripe, and Maëva taught me to shake the branches to make the ripest fruit fall. She hadn’t even been tending super well to her garden since she has been so busy, but there were still mint leaves to be plucked up as an all-natural breath freshener, and other herbs and veggies that we could “harvest” and use at our whim. Over at the farm, I made a salad one day using a big head of lettuce that I picked out of the garden. We went blackberry picking and managed to grab a whole kilo, enough to make 5 small jars of jam. I’ve already finished one! I could go on and on, but basically, gardens are awesome and I’m wondering why the hell I live in Paris?! Hopefully I can live somewhere with garden space at some point in my life.

Organic vegetables at the Sunday market in Jumilhac-le-Grand

Organic vegetables at the small but mighty Sunday market in Jumilhac-le-Grand

I loved getting to know some of the people in this town, inhabited by 1200 people (according to Wikipedia). Maëva is friends with the coolest people – the other organic farmers (we had apéro at the produce guy’s house, that he rebuilt himself with his wife), people who make homemade pizza in wood-fire ovens located in a squat, the guy who delivers homemade organic bread for €2. I got the gossip about everyone we saw, down to the bitchy butcher’s wife.

A trio of organic purveyors at the market

A trio of organic purveyors at the market

I’m so happy I went back to the farm. Not only was it great to see everyone again, but if I randomly was forced to drop everything and run a goat farm, I feel like I would be well-equipped to do so. And I’m no longer under the delusion that living in a small town is as boring as we make it out to be. There are plenty of advantages to a lifestyle outside of a big city, things that I forget about when I’m in my hectic Paris rhythm. It’s just nice to remember that there are other ways to live in the world, in case I ever tire of big-city life.

CHEESE

CHEESE

A search for wax sticks

Over a month ago I bought a cheap pot of wax at Monoprix to save money. It came with a bunch of the cloths you use to rip the wax off, and one sole wooden stick to spread the wax out. I figured I would just come back and buy refills after using the one stick the first time, so I checked out and went on my merry way.

I used the stick once and threw it away – there is no need to spread gross germs onto myself when trying to make my legs smooth, right?! Ok, obvious next step is to buy replacements.

The next time I was near a Monoprix I went in and looked around for the sticks with no luck. When the saleslady asked me what I was looking for, I explained, and she was flabbergasted that I would want new sticks. She looked at me and said that it would suffice to simply melt the wax off the stick and reuse it next time. When I mentioned the dreaded microbes, and that I’d already discarded it, she shrugged and apologized. I didn’t even care that they didn’t have them because it was such an amazingly positive customer service experience, for Paris!

After realizing that Monoprix stocks several types of wax pots and wax strips but no tools to spread them with, I started hunting every chance I got. I hit up several pharmacies – one lady offered to place a bulk order, but I felt like that would defeat my budget-saving purpose. I went to a few waxing places and asked if they sold them – no, and no she didn’t know where to buy them (really?!). I stopped by Sephora and asked the lady at Benefit if she would sell me just one stick from her waxing station. “Non.” (Bitch.) Marionnaud (a giant beauty chain here) – no, Hema (a Target-like store) – no, NO, NO, NO. Nowhere to be found! WTF France?!

A place without wooden sticks

A place without wooden sticks

Desperate, the other day I went to BHV just to go to their hardware store level on the bottom floor. This place is enormous – I thought for sure the paint section would have those giant wood sticks that you use to mix cans of house paint. I was so willing to go through the humiliation (even alone in my room) of spreading the wax on my leg and my face with a stick the length of my arm. But they didn’t have any, and when someone finally asked me what I was looking for and I asked, they showed me a red plastic paint stirrer with holes in it. I explained my true purpose and I pleaded – don’t you have any thin, plain wood in this place? He directed me to the kitchen level to the (actual) spatula section. Are you kidding? I scrape my cake batter into pans using a plastic salad tosser because I’m too cheap to buy a real baking spatula – it’s been on my splurge list for awhile. There’s no way I am going to waste that money on something for WAX for goodness sake!

Someone at one of these stores had tossed out, no, you can’t find those anywhere in Paris, except maybe at Château d’Eau… I had filed it away. Fed up, I decided to go for it the other day. This is beauty central – every other store window was full of hair products and makeup. Despite a persistant and almost scary man who harassed me as soon as I exited the metro, I was pleased to finally go into a store and emerge triumphantly five minutes later with 2 bags of 10 sticks for 1,50€!

The freakin sticks

The freakin sticks

I feel like this experience is a metaphor for my life here. In the end, I got what I wanted, but I’m so exhausted that I probably won’t even get around to waxing for another few weeks… and I’m not sure why I didn’t just go splurge at the salon by this time. Oh yeah, because I want to save money. But now I’m wondering if all that misery was worth it.

These same feelings apply to certain aspects of my life abroad. I recently got into a Master 2 program for next year. It was a huge triumph for me, after a SHIT month, or couple of months really, of preparing for and passing my interviews, and receiving the results. I’m so excited for this program, but I’m also quite traumatized by the whole process. After what I went through to make it here (I’ll have to write a separate post about that process), it feels great to have been accepted, like I really accomplished something. But I wonder how much of that is just the fact that I made it through a hard situation, and how much of it is pleasure and satisfaction from the actual accomplishment?

Used clothing shopping

So, not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but Paris is expensive. WHAT!

When I still lived in the US, I shopped at used-clothing stores all the time to save money. Living in a high-fashion, trendy place sucks when you have no cash. It’s not that Paris doesn’t have used-clothing stores, but they are more “vintage” than “thrift” and so the store owners charge unbelievably high prices. For my budget shopping here I’ve been relegated to stores that I’m getting so sick of – H&M, C&A, Tati (so classy!), stores in Belleville…

Recently my coworker mentioned Guerrisol. I’m STOKED – it’s an actual used-clothing store and it’s cheap. I now pop in every chance I get and rifle through the clothes, slinking around the store employees who are usually removing more fripes from giant plastic bags and placing them on the racks.

Last week I SCORED a silk butterfly sequin top, made in India – in great condition and only €10. I’ve had a rough month so I treated myself.

I HAD to have it

I HAD to have it

Plus, it’s definitely a wardrobe staple – every girl needs one in her closet. 😉

Front and back!

Butterflies on both sides!

Go find your treasure!

Guerrisol
96 bd de Barbes
75018 Paris
(This location had a lot of Indian items, the one in the 13th has smaller sizes)

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Sparkle motion!

WWOOFing in France – Cheese

So every day when milking the goats, I wondered how the milk would turn into cheese. Louise is the cheese-master (cheese-mistress?); every few days there were times when in the middle of a meal she would need to run up to la fromagerie to deal with the cheese. It turns out it’s a time-sensitive process. After getting to know her a bit I gathered the courage to ask if I could come watch her make the cheese. Before she could respond, the reaction of Gundula and Maëva gave me the impression that few were allowed to enter the fromagerie. Louise didn’t say yes, but she didn’t say no either.

Well, I must have passed some sort of test because the next day we made a plan for when I could come watch. I was so curious because just as with everything else I’d witnessed on the farm, I realized I’d been benefiting from the deliciousness that is cheese, gorging on it in countless sinful dishes of mac n cheese, dips into fondue, numerous grilled cheese sandwiches, and more my entire life, without really knowing how it comes to be.

So, allow me to show you how goat cheese is made!

During la traite, the milk is pumped into the room next door through a big vat, up a pipe, and into another big vat that lives in the fromagerie (cheese-making room). This room is completely sterile – I had to wear those shoe covers that surgeons wear! It’s starkly different from the rest of the farm.

Scrubs!

Scrubs!

Vat of goat milk

Vat of goat milk

If the milk is coming directly from the goats, it will be around 35°C and needs to cool down for a few hours. If it’s been sitting all night (she doesn’t make cheese every day so sometimes this happens) then it needs to be warmed up. After it has reached the right temperature, she adds some sort of acid or mineral or something (didn’t quite catch the word, and as I’m clearly never going to be a journalist I didn’t write anything down at the time or clarify later) to help something happen in the process…Then the machine is turned on and a whisk-like attachment moves around in the milk which has thickened because of the mystery thing that was added. This separates the curds (les caillés) from the whey (le petit lait). Like the nursery rhyme!

Mixing

Mixing

First the curds, which have a jello-like consistency, stay on the top surface and little designs from the blades appear. Gradually the whey comes out and it begins resembling a big pot of soup with chunks in it. Then it looks entirely liquid as the curds become even tinier. This process takes about 30 minutes (hence Louise having to dash off at the correct moment).

Can you see the lines in the curds?

Can you see the lines in the curds?

More whey has come out

More whey has come out

Separating curds and whey

Separating curds and whey

Then approximately 20% of the whey is drained into a separate vat below the fromagerie. They feed some of it to the pigs and sometimes they sell it to a local woman who makes soap out of it. The remaining curds and whey are mixed again to ensure there are no lumps too large. The curds become so small that the mixture looks like a big thing of really wet cottage cheese. Appetizing…

The next step is the molding process. She uses her hands to scoop up some curds into a mold. The molds are in a circle shape, with an outer solid plastic piece and an inner mesh sieve piece that fits right inside, and a lid that goes on top. Out of this batch she made 3 huge ones (the diameter of my forearm?), maybe 15 medium ones (the diameter of my hand?), and a few small ones. The molds are lined up and stacked neatly on a metal counter, then pressed down with a weight. They are left there for a few hours to drain off as much whey as possible. (No pictures of this because my camera died.)

The cave: salt bath and drying shelves

The cave: salt bath and drying shelves

After they’ve been pressed on both sides, they are bathed in a salt solution for 24-48 hours, depending on the size. Then they are covered in some dirt-looking stuff (again, fabulous journalistic ability here) and left on racks in the cave to dry. The oldest ones she had were 1.5 years old!

aging cheese

aging cheese

Two days a week, Louise or Maëva drive over to nearby Limoges to sell cheese and milk at the farmer’s market. One of the days I went with to help/see the town. It was fun to be on the seller’s side of the market for a change. It was a simple process, but I was slightly intimidated vending products to French people. I relied on my cashier instincts from my high school job at Beauty Center and felt totally comfortable behind the table – who knew that job would ever have come in handy?

The market in Limoges

The market in Limoges

Louise at her stand

Louise at her stand – the “AB” sign is an official sign meaning it’s organic

The other vendors at the market were very interested to meet an American girl and very curious to know what I am doing in France. A beekeeper “assigned” me this question to answer and gave me a few minutes to gather my thoughts: What is the difference between the US and France? I couldn’t decide whether I was more amused or more annoyed – it’s not that simple and I am just one person! But, I gave him an intelligent and thoughtful answer based on my own experiences. He listened, we discussed, and then he proclaimed my statements to be “student-level and undeveloped.” I was a bit perturbed by his dismissal of my ideas, but promptly changed my mind when he asked me if Miami was in California! I guess it’s not only Americans who are less-than-stellar in geography. In all seriousness, I don’t blame him because the US is a huge country and it’s not even his own.

Anyways, it was so cool to see cheese being made, from goat to market (/my belly – the ladies gifted me with a HUGE bag of cheeses to take back to Paris with me). If you have the opportunity to do the same, I highly recommend it!

Clockwise from bottom left: tastes like a mixture of goat and blue cheese (my fave), a young goat cheese, one with chili powder in the middle, an aged goat cheese, the chili one again

Clockwise from bottom left: tastes like a mixture of goat and blue cheese (my fave), a young goat cheese, one with chili powder in the middle, an aged goat cheese, the chili one again

*Update: Click these links for my introductory wwoofing post and my posts about Le JardinageLes Chèvres, and my second trip there.

WWOOFing in France – Les Chèvres

GOATS!

GOATS!

GOATS! Goatsgoatsgoatsgoats…this is what my friend Dan and I used to yell at each other in his mom’s car when we saw the goats the city of Oakland would place on the side of the road in our neighborhood to eat all the extra grass and prevent wildfires. That was my only interaction with goats prior to my experience on the goat farm!

One side of la chèvrerie

One side of la chèvrerie

If you have even one pet you are aware that they require a lot of maintenance. So consider 200+ goats and you can imagine farm life. This is why they take so few vacations! Besides all the cleaning and feeding, milking the goats is the most time-consuming aspect of goat farming. On the very first day I assisted with la traite (the milking), mere minutes after Maëva told me a story about her sister getting pooped on by a goat during the milking process. Yikes! Luckily I avoided being pooped on the whole time!

La Traite

This process needs to happen twice daily with the same amount of hours in between each milking. On this farm, it was 6am/6pm.

First, the goats are fed before rounding them up to bring into la salle de traite (the milking room). A wheelbarrow is used to distribute a sort of kibble-like food mixed with powdered minerals and vitamins. There is a hole in the wheelbarrow so when you walk quickly down the row, the food pours out in a line. My job was to follow the wheelbarrow with a broom and sweep the stray food back towards the goats’ eager tongues. They eat so voraciously that food gets propelled far out of reach of their mouths.

Feeding time

Feeding time

The first time I witnessed this process, I was amazed by what I saw and heard. As soon as the goats would hear the food being poured into the wheelbarrow, the sound of a stampede would fill my ears as they ran to line up at the gate and wait expectantly. The second the food was distributed, a frenzy of floor-licking would begin. It seemed as though they hadn’t eaten for days. Burps and gulps echoed off the dusty walls. I kept thinking, “they eat like such savage animals” and then I would remember, DUH they ARE animals! Some extra-greedy goats would even twist and squirm around the bars so they could place their legs and hooves on the platform and scrape more food towards themselves, preventing nearby goats from accessing the surrounding food.

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The next step was to herd them into the salle de traite. There were two raised concrete platforms on which they stood, butts facing the middle of the room where the we would stand. The difficulty of this process is getting each goat to place her head into the narrow space between two long metal poles running along the platform. Some of the goats would obediently walk to the right place, but some would try to run back to la chèvrerie, which in turn caused all the other goats to follow. We were all equipped with small wooden sticks that we used to tap them on the butt or side to encourage them to move when we needed them to move. Their collars or even their horns made excellent handles to pull them into the rows. 🙂

La salle de traite - getting ready to pump

La salle de traite – getting ready to pump

Once 20 or so goats were squished onto each side, we shut the gates and commenced milking. There is a set of pumps for every 3 or 4 goats. I quickly realized that it’s much harder than it looks. The first hurdle is that sometimes the goats really didn’t want the pumps to go on them, so they would repeatedly kick me or squish their legs together so I couldn’t reach. I could sometimes sneak it on them by winding the pump behind their legs, but then they would use their legs to push it off. Often, I would have to give up and ask for help. Once a goat was being particularly stubborn and I asked Gundula for help. With a nice caress on the goat’s side and a few murmured words of comfort, the goat immediately calmed down and accepted the pump. I was really impressed and amazed, and even more so when I tried to do the same thing and was met with still more kicks – this woman clearly has a way with goats. A goat-whisperer! It’s really cool to see the random talents people have – for things I’d never even have imagined.

Pumps on

Pumps on

Stubborn goats aside, many of them were complacent. Once the process has begun, the next difficulty is tending to the pumps in a timely manner. At the beginning of each set, I would start 3 to 4 goats pumping. Once I finished attaching pumps to the last goat, the first goat would be done, so I’d have to run over and move the pumps to the next goat. And so on. It’s best to avoid leaving the pumps on for too long after the milk has been pumped out, so it’s really important to stay on top of who’s teats are empty (ew I hate the word teat but that’s what they are! In French it’s la mamelle, a less gross word).

Hand-milking a goat!

Hand-milking a goat!

After we brought them back from la traite, they were given du foin (hay), de la paille (straw), and de la luzerne (dried alfafa). Usually they were fed these dried varieties of hay 4-5 times per day, plus they spent all day grazing in the grass. They were constantly eating! The more they eat, the more milk they produce.

Run free!

Run free!

Me and the goats!  I'm holding a fouet, a sort of whip, but you just use it to get them moving when they get distracted by a tasty-looking flower nearby.  It doesn't hurt them since they end is very flexible.

Me and the goats! I’m holding a fouet, a sort of whip, but you just use it to get them moving when they get distracted by a tasty-looking flower nearby. It doesn’t hurt them since the end is very flexible.

I was present for the full cycle of life during my time on the farm. On the second morning, one of the pregnant goats (in French you say elle est pleine = “full”) started going into labor. I expected one of the women to stick around with her to help, but Maëva just said to let her stay off to the side and do her thing. When we got back from feeding the baby goats, she had birthed her baby! I was so excited to see it – he was tiny and cute. His cries were very high-pitched and eerily similar to those of a human baby. We left them alone so the mother could deal with him in his first moments of life. But, a few hours later when we came back to check on them, the baby had died. Apparently it was far too early and the baby shouldn’t have been born for another month or so.

Dark pic of the baby goat who was born prematurely

Dark pic of the baby goat who was born prematurely

Another older goat fell sick while I was there – she was born in 2002, one of the first sets of goats from this farm! When we were moving her group from one area of the barn to another, she refused to get up. The whole week, we let her stay in that spot, moving her every few hours and bringing her water in a bucket and her own food. As the days passed, her eyes got more and more clouded and she seemed even frailer. Another goat fell sick too, and stayed by her side. When I would come in the barn, they would be cuddling, surrounded by healthy goats. Sometimes the healthy goats were there to steal the food we were leaving for the sick goats, but sometimes they were simply there for moral support. The sick goats died in their sleep before I left.

It was sad to see these goats die, but c’est la vie. I can say with confidence that they lived the happiest goat lives possible – the fields they spent their days in were lush with grass and surrounded by open skies and pretty forests. They were well-cared for by three women who clearly love and respect these animals.

Here are some pictures of the kid goats to cheer you up:

Curious lil guy

Curious lil guy

Snuggle

hi!

Snuggle time

Snuggle time

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I really loved the goats! There is no sense in being scared of them. They are very sweet animals. If I was ever standing still around them, they would approach me and nuzzle me so I would pet them. They reminded me of puppies – sometimes they would chew on my pants if I wasn’t paying attention! Also, the cheese made from their milk was delicious. That will be my next and final wwoofing post.

*Update: Click these links for my introductory wwoofing post and my posts about Le Jardinage, Cheese, and my second trip there.