I got off the train in Quimper, 24 hours in to my trip from Madison, Wisconsin to Treguennec, France, half asleep and half scared out of my wits, and realized that I had somehow forgotten to write down the address of the farm where I was spending the next two and a half months. I had spent the two hour ride there trading between trying not to nod off and miss my stop, and struggling to comprehend the garbled French coming out of the overhead speakers—after seven years of French classes, I was pretty sure they had chosen this day to announce the stops in some other language.
An American expat, John Tevis, was supposed to meet me at the station and drive me the rest of the way to the farm, called Chèvrerie de la Baie. I realized, however, that not only had I not brought along any contact information for the Chèvrerie, but I also in my tired state had completely forgotten what John looked like, having only met him once via Skype.
Thankfully, John recognized me, probably because I was the only deliriously tired person at the rural train stop lugging a giant suitcase and looking around frantically. We got in his car and made the trip to the Chèvrerie, while John told me more details about the family, who I had never met. John had generously helped me find this job, and I was the first person outside of the family (other than John) who had ever worked on the farm.
John introduced me to the family, and promptly drove off to his house, leaving me to struggle to communicate in French that, yes, I did want to stay awake and help out, and yes, I would love to help get the cobwebs off of the roof of the barn! Meanwhile, I was having a small internal panic attack that the one person who spoke English had just left me alone and wasn’t coming back to visit for another week. Marisa and Fred, the owners of the farm and two of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met, hid their smiles as I forced my way through an afternoon of work while my eyes drooped and I stifled a yawn. And then, right before dinner, Marisa took me in to the laboratoire.
If you worship good cheese like I do, getting in to the laboratoire on the first day of my visit was like St. Peter handing over the golden key to heaven. We tasted each cheese, and she told me about what she was working on and how she made each cheese. I watched everything she did and tried to understand the French—but, what I understood the most was the taste. Oh, that cheese…her rounds of fresh, raw milk fromage de chèvre melted softly on your tongue, while the more aged cheeses had a tangy, creamy paste and a slightly chewy, soft rind. Marisa’s super dry crotin were immensely salty, tiny, crunchy rounds that tasted like nothing I’d ever had before. As we left the laboratoire to go make dinner, I made a mental note to go through my French dictionary that night for a few more vocabulary words for ‘delicious’.