Sancerre is built on the top of a little round hill above the banks of the river Loire. It has, at a rough guess, six or seven cafes and restaurants, several patisseries, three butchers, a little corner store and 20 wine shops. So food and drink feature heavily in this small town.
The nearest supermarket is at the foot of the hill, and it was there we set out for this morning, after a wonderful chat on Skype with the Lees. We were a little disconcerted at first because we’d become so used to following maps in large cities. Here the average block is a couple of houses long, so we were completely over-estimating the distances involved. It would have been a lovely walk in the countryside, but for the persistent rain which did manage to take the edge off our enjoyment.
France is yet another country where fresh milk is extraordinarily difficult to track down. But then, and this may be in some way related, they do have the most wonderful range of products made from milk. So we stocked up on some cheeses, bought the only two bottles of fresh milk in the place and headed home. Walking back up the hill was significantly harder than walking down it – go figure!
At the top of the hill is a lovely little cheese shop that has a range of the local speciality: Crottin de Chavignol. This is a natural-rind cheese made from goat’s milk. It comes in two varieties: young crottins have a light taste and then the aged ones are reputedly more nutty and goat-tasting. We figured we had two weeks so we started with a young crottin which, when served for lunch, even the boys liked.
Crottin de Chavignol are presented rolled up into little fist-sized balls. This appearance is, perhaps, the reason for the unusual name. Pop “Crottin de Chavignol” into Google translate and you get the brutal “dung of Chavignol” as the response. The original meaning of crottin is: droppings, manure, dung. I was, perhaps, a happier cheese-eater before I indulged in that bit of Internet research.