The history of Goat Cheese

medium_goats.jpgOf all the animals domesticated by Man, the goat was one of the first. They were small, easily transportable, and could withstand a nomadic existence as well as extremes of weather.
Around 8000B.C., farmers in the Eastern Mediterranean began keeping small herds of goats for meat, their skins but more importantly for milk. The goat was a mobile food supply providing a healthy food, easy to digest and eminently suitable for infants. The milk when made into cheese keeps well and suited the nomadic life of the people at that time.

History tells us that the Cyclops, Polyphemus- who appears in The Odyssey, is described moulding goats curd in small moulds made from rush. Both Ulysses and The Romans enjoyed goat’s cheese as well as their respective gods Bacchus and Dionysus… who were partial to eating them dipped in olive oil.
Goat cheese spread round the Mediterranean with the Islamic conquest of the area by the
Saracens. They eventually invaded France from Spain and for the next 25 years steadily moved north; taking with them their goats and their cheese.

Towards the end of the 8th Century, the Muslims reached the Loire River a major route of commerce and transportation, which would accelerate the spread of goat cheese along its southern bank. As an invading force the Saracens did not cross the river and the Islamic occupation came to an end on October the 10th in the year 732 when they were finally defeated and repelled at the Battle of Tours. The Saracens were forced south but left behind their goats and their knowledge of goat’s cheese.

The Saracen occupation of the southern Loire lands would account for the numerous goats’ cheese to be found south of the river, such as:

1. Chabichou du Poitou- AOC in 1990-location.
2. Crottin de Chavignol - AOC in 1976-location.
3. Pélardon des Cevennes - AOC in 2000-location.
4. Pouligny Saint Pierre - AOC in 1972-location.
5. Sainte-Maure de Touraine - AOC in 1990-location.
6. Selles sur Cher - AOC in 1975-location.
7. Valençay - AOC in 1998-location.

Taking into consideration the regionalistic nature of French food and cheese being no exception; once a product has been developed in an area, history shows that it will not leave that region, which is what the AOC system was invented to enforce.
The fact that the Saracens did not cross the natural obstacle of the river would account for the fact that there are so few goat cheeses north of the River Loire and none officially in Brittany.
The only goat’s cheese to be found in Loire-Atlantique, the former region of Brittany is the Trois cornes de Vendee traditionally made near Chaillé which is also made south of the river

AOC Goats cheese and the date granted.

1. 1972 Pouligny Saint Pierre.
2. 1975 Selles sur Cher.
3. 1976 Crottin de Chavignol.
4. 1983 Picodon.
5. 1988 Cabecou.
6. 1990 Chabichou du Poitou.
7. 1990 Sainte-Maure de Touraine.
8. 1996 Rocamadour.
9. 1998 Valençay.
10. 2000 Pélardon des Cevennes.
11. 2002 Chevrotin des Aravis.
12. 2003 Banon.

©Malcolm Hamilton 2006.


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