Every September, Parthenay hosts the local agricultural fair – France’s equivalent to an English County Show. It’s held in the cattle market, one of France’s biggest, and is clearly focussed on animals, machinery, and all things agricultural; unlike England, where you find lots of stalls selling everything from table mats to woolly hats! Only a twenty-minute drive from Uniquely French’s houses at Le Prieure, it’s a real treat for visitors and a great way to spend a couple of hours – and taste some of the regions speciality foods.
Speciality goat’s cheese
This area is famous for producing delicious goats’ cheese and there are many sellers happy to give you a taste of the many different types of cheese they produce. One we tested was on display with five or six others, each coated in a different mix of herbs and spices from bright red to brown, peppers and spices to onions and herbs. Others have the traditional black ash covering, some are wrapped in leaves, all look completely rustic and I love them.
Making goats cheese is a real art and there are so many different types and shapes available. It matures from the centre and to begin with, the centre is creamy and delicious. As the cheese ages, it dries and this gives us the harder varieties we enjoy. Lots more can be found out on the Castello website https://www.castellocheese.com/en-us/cheese-types/goat-cheese/. I hope to be able to visit a local producer soon and write about the traditional method of making the cheese.
Unusual animals at Parthenay’s agricultural show
One of my favourite animals on view at the show is the incredible Poitou donkey, known in France as Le Baudet. With their long, shaggy and often dreadlock like coats, they are completely unique and one of the most endangered species of donkey in the world today. In 1978 there were only 44 purebred Baudets left, but fortunately, numbers are rising again, though there are only around five hundred worldwide. They have quite enormous ears and are immensely strong. If I had the room I would be breeding them, without a doubt! They seem quite magical and I am sure would make for a great cartoon character with their great long coats, often reaching below their knees and their wing-like ears.
The poultry tent is always a real treat, though this year with the high temperatures this year, some of the animals were looking pretty hot. The tent contains cute rabbits, as well as pigeons, turkeys, geese and hens. Many were for sale and I would love to have been tempted, but the chicken run is not likely to be ready until the spring. First, the potager has to be cleared of all the laurel that has taken hold over the past few years when the house was empty and then I have to see if I can find a local farmer who might help drag out the many roots at a quiet time in the winter.
Instead of buying, I took lots of pictures of Marans and Silkies so that I can remind myself in the spring of what I would like. I’ve also made friends with a lady who has a contact for ex-battery chickens, so there is going to be a mix of the pretty and the pretty ugly, to begin with. Having seen her beautiful poultry, the ugly ducklings (well, chickens!) from the battery farm will soon turn into beautiful birds!
Beautiful bees and local honey
The bee stall was on the list too, as the plan is to have a couple of hives next year. The beekeeping course I went on ten years ago will finally come in useful! Unfortunately, we hit the stall at lunchtime and the charming elderly gentleman, having made our acquaintance, suggested we come back half an hour later when he and his friend had eaten. There was quite a feast being unwrapped on a table at the back of the stall and a serious picnic, as only the French can do, was starting. After about forty minutes we wandered back, but the feast was still in full swing and so my beekeeping will have to be more locally focussed in a group I heard about in a local village yesterday.
We ended by wandering along the rows of cattle who had been primped and perfumed for the show. I just failed to get a photo of a young girl holding the hairdryer to a rather large beastie. Rather her than me! He didn’t look like he would be very charming if he got fed up! He must have been ten times her size at least. But the animals were stunning and I couldn’t help wondering, as I walked past the massive rumps, which would make the most delicious steak on a plate! Oops, I love vegetarian food too!!!