A quick flick through an Alençon tourist guide book led me to find this farm which specialises in Sheep’s cheeses, yoghurts and some incredibly exciting new products in the pipeline.
It turns out that it was him whose cheese I bought last year at a market, small world.
The guidebook showed me that the farm opened for visits to watch their milking a few evenings a week. One of which fell on Friday, which rounded up our trip in Normandy well.
We arrived at 5pm at the farm and were greeted by the sun and Stéphane Coullard the owner, farmer and cheese maker. If you think you work long hours, think again.
I went with him to collect the Sheep from the fields to come in for milking. Sod’s law meant that the heavens opened for that short ten minute period but I did not care.
Stéphane bought his farm 8 years ago and he now owns 80 sheep, the majority of which are Lacaune, the sheep used to make Roquefort and the rest, black and white Corse.
Stéphane took us into the milking parlour where he milks the sheep once a day at the moment. The parlour is simple yet efficient. The sheep come in from the barn on one side through a guillotine like trap door, they line up around 8 at a time and he milks them in turn, missing out those who do not need it. They then leave on the other side into a separate section of the barn.
He was extremely open and answered my four hundred questions with grace and genuine interest in sharing his passion.
His sheep are of all shapes and sizes between the breeds, so each sheep gives on average just one litre of milk at this time of year.
They are fed on grass in the Summer and a mixture of hay, cereals and straw in Winter.
After the hour it takes to milk the whole herd, they are left to settle for a further hour before being taken back outside.
In this time, we went to taste through his cheeses plus some experiments and were able to purchase lots of delicious yoghurt too.
He makes lactic cheeses which are very simple. They range in affinage from the very fresh few day old cheeses in the foreground to beautiful geotrichum coated pieces in the background to some experiments into further aging also. Everything is raw milk except for the yoghurts which are pasteurised.
The yoghurts were incredibly tasty and you shouldn’t be put off by the fact that they are made with sheep’s milk as they were the most delicate and subtle sheep yoghurts I have ever tried with no overpowering animal funk. The fruit compotes within the flavoured yoghurts were as fresh as can be, with the apricot winning by far for me.
Dinner was a plate of his cheeses with honey from Normandy. This included his Tomme de Brebis which was light and zingy. We got chatting about me working in cheese and he then told us about an exciting new project they have just started. Two weeks ago he started collaborating with a farmer of ‘lait de jument’ – milk from a female horse. The cheeses weren’t ready to taste but watch this space as I will most definitely be trying it once it is ready, a mixture of Sheep and Horse milk, how incredibly rare, especially in Normandy!
Brebis d’Ecouves can be found close to Saint Nicolas des Bois, a short 20 minute drive from Alençon in Basse Normandie.
Stéphane opens his farm to the public between 5pm and 7pm on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. His cheeses are also sold by him personally on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at the Alençon Farmers Market. Tell him I said hi!