Editor’s note: Here at Culinary Backstreets, we eagerly await the coming of spring each year, not just for the nicer weather but also because some of our favorite foods and dishes are at their best – or indeed, are only available – for a short period during this season. This post from Marseille is the first installment of “Spring (Food) Break 2021,” a weeklong celebration of our favorite springtime eats.
In France, cheese is served as a main course in the winter. We melt raclette over potatoes and dunk hunks of baguette into oozy baked Mont D’Or, the warm, alpine cheeses keeping us toasty on cold nights. But once the temperature starts to rise, and we shed our winter layers, our hunger for these hearty cheeses wanes. We crave something tangier. Something brighter and lighter. We want brousse du Rove.
Made with raw milk from the unique breed of chèvre du Rove, brousse is unbelievably fresh and goes beautifully with Provençal honey, olive oil, and seasonal fruit. Due to its short shelf life (and small production, with just seven cheese-makers currently producing it), you can only find brousse in the Bouches-du-Rhône, the region where it’s made. We buy ours in Marseille at the Cours Julien farmers’ market, where in March, the chestnut cart makes room for La Cabro D’Or, one of the most beloved brousse makers.
Sold in plastic cones, the fresh cheese might appear simple. Yet this ancestral recipe has one of the strictest fabrication specifications of any French fromage. And with an emphasis on the goats’ well-being and the land on which they roam (all brousse makers must raise their own animals), it requires the skills of both farmer and cheese-maker. We took a road trip to La Cabro D’Or to learn more.
Luc and Magali Falcot’s farm is found 20 minutes outside of Marseille, off a winding road lined with parasol pines that befit the village’s name, Cuges-Les-Pins. For over 20 years, the couple has raised Rove goats and fabricated brousse and other farmstead chèvres. When we arrive, Luc is milking the goats with his son, Bastien. As Luc moves the squelching pumps between teats, he scratches one goat’s nose while its neighbor affectionately nuzzles him. If it looks like he truly loves his job, that’s because he’s living out his dream.
The mustachioed farmer fantasized about living in the country and being a herder since he was young. He started out in the business world, buying the land where La Cabro D’Or sits to raise horses in his off time. In 1998, he and his wife took the plunge, purchasing twelve Rove goats. “We had 45 minutes of training,” Luc says with a smile. “The goat farmer taught us to raise goats for half an hour, and then spent 15 minutes on cheese-making.”
Since chèvres du Rove produce very little milk, a farmer wouldn’t make a profit if he had to purchase everything they eat. They must practice pastoralism – in which the animals graze on vegetation in the open lands. Every afternoon, Luc sets off with his 150 goats (and two dogs: one to lead the way; the other to protect from wolves) for five to six hours. Roaming the surrounding hills, the goats happily munch kermes Oak and tree heather.
“This isn’t just folklore, or something Pagnolesque,” Luc emphasizes, referring to Marcel Pagnol, the iconic auteur that romanticized Provençal life. The outdoor grazing is one of the requisites of brousse making. And it’s incredibly beneficial to the land. This grand pastoral system aids land-use planning, favors biodiversity and contributes to fire prevention by reducing excess brush. A local mayor hires him for the latter.
“Goats are like us,” explains Luc. “They don’t want to eat the same thing everyday.” Their diverse diet infuses their milk with complex vegetal notes. And, since one season will favor ground ivy and rosemary while another is more perfumed with brooms (shrub), each batch of brousse du Rove has subtle differences.
The rare Rove breed, named for the hilly Mediterranean village at Marseille’s western border, almost became extinct. Their majestic spiral horns (which can grow up to four feet long) were considered dangerous, and their meager milk production made them less appealing to farmers. The government stepped in to save them in the 1980s, but then fraud soon threatened the brousse itself.
“Two out of three brousse were knockoffs,” recounts Luc. Customers complained that the cheese had lost its soul. The goats themselves were given antibiotics and penned up – two no-no’s in the current regulations. A European Slow Food delegate urged the farmers to seek an AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlé) designation, the French certification that preserves terroir-driven, agricultural products.
Eleven years later, in 2018, they obtained an AOC – the first cheese to do so in the Bouches-du-Rhône. The rigorous fabrication rules require the goats to graze on open land, that farmers avoid GMOs and artificial insemination, and that the goats’ horns cannot be clipped, despite their unwieldiness (Luc’s son got nicked in the forehead while milking during our visit).
Brousse du Rove must be made with raw milk only. Immediately after the goats are milked, Luc or Bastien carry the jugs to the fromagerie besides the barn. There, Magali gets to work. She filters the milk, and then heats it up in a large pot. After removing it from the heat, she waits for the temperature to drop and then stirs in white vinegar. This flocculates the milk – brousser means “to beat” in Provençal –causing it to clump up.
She lifts out these curds with a fine mesh chinois, straining out the excess liquid before pouring them into plastic cones. From teat to tube in just a few hours, brousse’s bright tang comes from this incredible freshness. It also is due to the fact that brousse is made with whole milk, whereas Italian ricotta and Coriscan Brocciu use whey, the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled during cheese making.
“We had 45 minutes of training,” Luc says with a smile. “The goat farmer taught us to raise goats for half an hour, and then spent 15 minutes on cheese-making.”
Brousse lends itself to both sweet and savory preparations. Locals love it with fresh strawberries in the spring and raspberry jam in the summer. For us, slathered on sourdough and topped with salt, pepper and artisanal olive oil is pure pleasure. Springtime menus feature squash blossoms stuffed with brousse – it also makes a fantastic ravioli filling or pizza topping.
Up until the 1960s, brousse used to be sold on the streets of Marseille. When locals heard the sellers’ Provençal cry, “leï brousso dou Rouvé!” they would descend from their apartments, the farmer scooping the fluffy cheese directly onto their plate. Nowadays, Luc only does direct sales due to his small production quantities and the cheese’s limited shelf life – it lasts only eight days.
In Marseille, you can find his brousse at the Laiterie Marseillaise fromagerie and Épicerie l’Idéal. At the Cours Julien farmers’ market, it often sells out by 11 a.m. You’re also welcome to come to the farm stand, open every morning except Wednesday and Sunday. Here, you get the added bonus of seeing the special goats.
Regulars come by to chat with Luc and Magali, bringing apples to feed their horses and sometimes a blanket to lunch in the hills. During ou visit in March, we pet two one-week-old goats – so tiny they made the toddler playing besides them look huge. The chèvres were an adorable symbol of spring, and of future brousse to come.
The Cours Julian farmers’ market runs on Wednesdays from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m. You can also find La Cabro D’Or brousse at Laiterie Marseillaise (86 Rue Sainte, Tel. +33 04 91 06 73 82) and Épicerie l’Idéal (11 Rue d’Aubagne, Tel. +33 09 80 39 99 41)
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