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A Shepherd’s Life

Originally from Spanish Catalonia, Ignasi and Montse found refuge at the foot of Mount Canigou in the Llitera Valley on the French side more than 20 years ago. Sheep farmers and cheese makers, they took over the bergerie and cheese making operation when the last shepherd-monk of St. Michel de Cuxa retired. St. Michel de Cuxa is the celebrated abbey near Prades, home to the annual Pablo Casals Music Festival and famous for its Romanesque architecture. It’s a stunning and peaceful setting still maintained by resident monks today.

It’s the light and color here that waken the emotions, says Ignasi, who accompanies his herd of 120 sheep to different pastures. It’s ever changing each day, he says.

Twenty thousand liters of milk are produced each year, for making tomme cheeses, yogurt and the exceptional mato made partly from cheese curd. Loyal followers don’t hide their gluttony as they line up at the weekly market in Prades for this Catalan favorite, especially when mixed with honey for meli mato.

The sheep are milked twice a day from the end of March (just after birthing season) until the end of August. It’s only after an aging of two to three months that tomme cheeses are made available at the market. The aromas and flavors differ following seasonal pastures, and it’s for this reason floral notes invade the taste buds from the cheeses made from late-spring milk.

Despite the fervent motion of the modern world, the quietude found in this shepherd’s pastures seems to have, at least here, stopped time.

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