During my stay in Normandy, my mother-in-law could not stop raving about a local cheesemaker, Charlotte Milhiet, who appears at the local market every Saturday. She and her husband own a goat farm and creamery in the tiny village of Reuil-la-Gardelière. When market day finally came, despite all of the Grande Fête preparations (which was taking place the next day!), she rushed home to fetch me so that I could meet Charlotte and visit the farm that afternoon.
As soon as I met blue-eyed, pink-cheeked Charlotte and saw her cheeses, I understood how she managed to charm not only my mother-in-law, but the entire region. She is as beautiful as a storybook milkmaid! More importantly, her ashed chèvres are gorgeous, grey jewels. I immediately knew I needed to try one of her fresh goat tommes. (Another cheese for the Grande Fête!) She offers a variety of fresh and slightly more aged goat crottins, tommes, and bûches, not all of which have names. She seems to sell her cheeses as fast as she makes them, so there’s no time to age them for very long.
When the time came to visit the farm, just in time for milking, four of us piled into the car to take the dirt roads to la Ferme du Bois Normand. The sky was nearly clear, highly unusual for Normandy. We drove by wheat fields blazing red with poppies and pea fields blazing blue with cornflowers, past 18th and 19th century country homes and structures, and pulled up to the farm’s central courtyard.
A joyous German shepherd and Chihuahua rushed out to greet us. To our right was the family home, a typical Normandy home with thick, solid walls, exposed beams, narrow windows, and dark interiors. Before us was the creamery, where Charlotte’s husband is building what is to be the farm boutique next to the already functioning cheese making rooms. To our left and behind us were huge storage spaces for hay, the delivery truck, and the billy goats.
We made our way behind the creamery where about 45 milking goats, all French Alpine, were curious to see newcomers. Charlotte greeted us here, and showed us her goats. She explained that she had learned her cheesemaking craft from her mother, and animal husbandry from her father. When she and her husband decided to start the farm, her father gave her 20 of his lowest-performing goats, but since his goats were already award winners, that wasn’t such a bad deal. Goats ogled us as we talked. She was curious about goat farms in the States, so I showed her some photos from my recent visit to Redwood Hill Farm. “Can I see their udders?” she asked sheepishly when I glossed past a photo of some show goats. She called her husband over, “Look at the size of them! Incredible!”
Milking time was upon us, so we watched her and her husband corral the goats into their slots, ten at a time. Their heads disappeared into buckets filled with oats, popping up to eye us again only after the oats had vanished.
We didn’t want to trouble Charlotte too much, since it was getting late, and she had just picked up her infant son. Young family and new cheesemakers? That is quite an impressive to-do list they need to get through every day! I wish them all the best, but given the reputation La Ferme du Bois Normand is developing, I think they’ve got it.