Monday, September 28, 2009

Ah, La Vache !

That could be loosely translated as "holy cow!" It's a phrase you hear a lot in France when someone is expressing surprise. I don't know where it comes from, and I wonder if it's not just a euphemism for something stronger.

A lone Montbéliarde calf up on the Puy Mary.

At any rate, we saw quite a number of vaches during our wanderings in the Auvergne. They were simply everywhere, grazing. As Ken described on his blog, there are two principal varieties of cattle in this region, the Salers and the Montbéliarde.

A Salers cow with its brass bell.

The Montbéliarde is a reddish-brown and white cow (the head is always white) that originated in the northeastern mountains of France and has since been raised in many other regions, including the Massif Central. The Montbéliarde is primarily a dairy cow.

The milking in progress.

The Salers cow is almost mahogany in color and has existed in the Cantal region for as long as anyone can remember. It's used both for its milk (cow) and meat (steers and calves) -- Salers beef is well regarded in France.

The farmers working the herd.

The cattle in this region move around from pasture to pasture, up and down mountainsides, looking for fresh grass to eat. They are almost always adorned with big brass cowbells that clang loudly when they walk. It's quite something to hear.

Veal. On the hoof.

Many cheese producers milk their cows out in the pasture, rather than bringing them into a barn for milking. The milking is done twice a day, morning and evening. We got to see an evening milking (really late afternoon). It was interesting to watch the farmers strap the milking machines onto the cows. They also tied a calf to each cow's leg to stimulate milk flow.

A white calf. Get a load of those eyelashes!

After the cow was milked, the milk was poured into a large vat and the calf was allowed to suckle. It seemed to me that there were about five cows being milked at any one time.


  1. So, what's up with the white vâche? Is it an albino Salers calf?

    And, what about the horns? Are they only on the Salers cows?


  2. I would think the horns are typical to the Salers cows. In Aveyron they have the Aubrac cows. They are beautiful, also brown and around their eyes, dark, as if they are wearing eyeliner.

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  5. Jean, don't sugar coat it :))

    So, what cow do you think it is on the Vâche qui rit cheese package? It has horns and a bell :)


  6. judy, gosh, I have no idea about how many varieties of cows have horns. There's a research topic! And the vache qui rit isn't wearing a bell, but earings made from boxes of vache qui rit cheese!

    nadege, my cow knowlege is épuisé...

    jean, we weren't there long enough to get fed up, except on cheese! hehe.

    michael, yes indeed-y!

  7. Walt, I deleted my comment because on a second look I thought it was a little too .... descriptive ! Suffice it to say, I don't find cows attractive company !!

  8. jean, oh, that wasn't necessary - I didn't think there was anything untoward about your comment! :)

  9. Thanks, Walt, but I could hear my mother's voice in my head saying "Jean, toilet talk is not ladylike" and it just had to go !!


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