Monday, August 22, 2011

The Disappearance of the Transhumance (Patrick Rance)

        This brings us to the Vivarais, a beautiful mountain pays.  On its eastern flank crags and cliff-crested shale slopes tower over the rivage along the Rhone.  The south-east, between the Ardeche and the Rhone, more like Provence, is called Ardeche a l’Huile. This was Helvie in Roman times, later ruled, like Velay, sovereign-bishops, and came to the French crown in 1229. It was represented in the Etats du Languedoc  from the fourteenth century, but I hope its modern inhabitants will excuse me for regarding it as a natural companion in its mountains and its cheeses to Velay, Forez, and Auvergne.

        This century has seen decline and depopulation, and latterly even the disappearance of the transhumance*.  The irregular charm of the old stone buildings has too often been hidden behind the dirty battledress of cement, or the hideous stark suburbanism of harl and rough-cast.  What remains of Vivarais’ past to delight the eye is the occasional handsome group of farm buildings, and nature itself, sometimes growing over the abandoned terraces of the mountain sides, where the exceptional tiny, high vineyard yet persists.  Higher still, castles can be indistinguishable from crags, crags from castles.  Far below are the working vineyards of today, producing wines which I have found pleasant with pasta and cheese.   On the Rhone south of Valence, La Voulte-sur-Rhone on N86 offers a Friday market before you turn west on D-20 for Saint-Laurent-du-Pape, where there is an organic goat farm.  D120 provides one route up into Picodon country, with a farm at Gluiras by the way, before Pont de Chervil.  Further north and west are a farm at Saint-Basile, and Lamastre, where all kinds of chevres and some mi-chevres are available.

From:  Patrick Rance, The French Cheese Book.  London, Macmillan, 1989

* "Transhumance is the seasonal movement of people with their livestock over relatively short distances, typically to higher pastures in summer and to lower valleys in winter. Herders have a permanent home, typically in valleys. Only the herds travel, with the people necessary to tend them."

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