Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bief and the Montbéliarde Cows

We almost did not stop in Bief because there is not a biological connection to Janice's family, but there is a family connection, and we were intrigued by the small village which was on our way to Neuvier.  In 1801, Jacob Frey was born in Bief.  When he married Mary Graber and farmed in Voujeaucourt (now a suburb of Montbéliard), he took Mary's daughter (Verena Graber) into his family.  This Verena was Janice's great-great grandmother Aeschliman.  They all migrated to the U.S. in 1835 when Verena was 11 years old.

The rural village of Bief (named after the local river) is in the département of Doubs, in the région Franche-Comté.  A 2006 census recorded 116 people living within the village's 4 sq. km, which is an improvement from the 94 counted about a decade earlier.  There are several prominent outcroppings of limestone in the local foothills, reminding us that the soil is often stony, but still suitable for grazing. 

Quoting from the informative sign:
Nestled in the confluence of the Bief--which gave its name to the village--and the Doubs, Bief was recognized as far back as the Middle Ages for its mills powered by water, via a ribe (a type of mill), and an ordinary furnace, for the subjects of the Châtillon-Sous-Maîche domain.
The stone roadside cross dates from the 16th century and the chapel was founded in 1669 by the inhabitants of Bief who had survived the plague.

The 16th-c. cross (of which this is but the very top) has survived the weather over the centuries remarkably well.  The primitive figure is a stylized depiction of the crucified Christ, emphasizing agony through the position of the figure's head and rib cage.

I enjoyed this fisherman patiently waiting for something for dinner.  The spring months had been unusually dry, so this mountain stream was quite shallow.

The vine climbing the south side of this extended dwelling must produce enough grapes for many a bottle of fine local wine.

At least twice daily, a herd of montbéliardes (cows) deliberately marches through the village.  In this late afternoon photo, they were heading home.  Nobody needs to lead them because they know the way, and know to walk in line, without being unduly distracted by two Canadian tourists with cameras.  All village traffic stops of course, as it has for years.  The cows want to be milked and fed before settling in for the evening.

These red-on-white montbéliardes are the cows bred by the Swiss Mennonites who fled Bern (or Berne, in nearby Switzerland) because of religious intolerance.  The Franco-Swiss Mennonites apparently bred their Swiss mountain cattle with certain of the local cattle and finally produced the "montbéliarde" cows (first named by Joseph Graber in 1872). This breed was finally officially recognized (complete with a genealogy and stud records) in 1889, and is now found in 50 countries throughout the world.  The montbéliardes are not only known for their excellent meat, but are they also the third most productive producers of milk in France.  About 2/3 of this rich milk is turned into cheese, both the famed Comté and my favourite, Emmantal.  This French Emmantal cheese is closely related to the Swiss cheese of a similar appellation.  One surmises that the yeasts and cheese-making techniques were brought from Bern, across the border and into eastern France by Swiss Mennonite immigrants in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Knowing this story made the 'cow event' all the more memorable.

One recent set of photos on the web showing the same woman on this road with her herd is entitled, "Quand les vaches de m. Belot traversent le village" (When the cows of Madame Belot go through the village").  I presume that this is her herd of montbéliardes.