“He’s not going away on a honeymoon” he said, pointing at his son who was stirring the milk in a huge wooden vat. “I didn’t go, so I don’t see why he should.” He turned and strolled over to look at the cheese and I glanced down at his feet. He was dressed in khaki hunting attire, but he’d exchanged the odd looking pair of espadrilles that he’d been wearing when we’d met in front of the cheese dairy, for a pair of white wellies.
The beleaguered newly-wed dipped his hand into the vat gauging the curdling milk before he hauled a 40 kg round of cheese into the cold room. “It was hard enough finding a replacement for a few days when he got married” continued his father. “The Chamber of Agriculture sent us someone who couldn’t even milk a cow and nobody wants to work 15 hour days anymore.”
I looked around the spotless fromagerie thinking that our visit to a farm to see the making of the famous Cantal cheese was turning into a real eye opener. My husband had revealed his agricultural roots and after both father and son had looked him up and down, contemplating his conspicuous canary yellow jacket and white trainers, they had accepted him as one of theirs. They had dispatched with the general chitchat they kept for tourists and took us into their confidence, as though farming was some sort of an exclusive ‘members only’ club. The irony of spending our holidays in mountains in the company of other farmers wasn’t lost on me.
“There’s a time for everything” the farmer continued “when you’re young you work, and when you’re retired you can go on holiday.” The son shrugged as he led us towards their small shop and started cutting off hunks of cheese. “Temperatures dropped to -16 °F last year and the snow stayed on the ground for 5 months” he said, steering the conversation back to a less contentious subject. I shivered as I paid for the cheese and then rushed the kids back to the car, the icy wind cutting through my jacket in the blackness.
The Alps were starting to seem like the Caribbean I thought, as well as a hub of modernity and civilisation. I had always considered life in our farming community to be backwards, but the Alpine farmers seemed to be the forerunners of progressive thinking compared to those in rural Auvergne.