VIDEO. These Occitanie animals to protect 4/6: Lacaune, a sheep recognized for its dairy performance

the essential
The Lacaune sheep is the breed used to make Roquefort cheese. We went to a farm located in Tarn, on the border between Hérault and Aveyron.

In the village of Angles, located on the Montagne Noire, it is collection day. A truck stops at the town’s seven dairies to collect sheep’s milk for the Roquefort cellars. “According to the specifications of the AOP recognized in 1925, the milk used to make Roquefort comes exclusively from Lacaune Lait ewes reared in the Aveyron department and some communes in the neighboring departments”, reports the approved selection body ( Upra) . Here in Tarn, Frédéric Jougla took over the family farm together with his wife Marie. They take care of a herd of 500 ewes, which they present to us on their 250 hectares.

Marie and Frédéric Jougla have continued family breeding for four generations in Anglès.

Standardized morphology

Horizontal ears, long and thin head without horns. We discover a breed of 70 kilos, characterized by its high size and its absence of wool under the belly. “Our sheep are disciplined, motherly, assures the shepherd. Their docile nature is pleasant to live with on a daily basis”. The Lacaune sheep, a passion that unites this couple who live among the animals. Like his father and his grandfather before him, Frédéric dedicates his life to the breeding of this species, whose selection is very controlled. “More than 100 years ago, the Lacaune breed was officially recognized. A standard was defined for ewes and rams of this breed and it must be maintained within the selection core. It is the qualifications of young breeders that make it possible to follow up on this. standard and to “reject” non-conforming animals.”

The French champion

With more than 850,000 ewes raised in France, this breed represents 50% of the French dairy sheep population. It is the first French breed in number. “The genetic selection of animals with the highest milk yield allows an average of 200 liters per year and per ewe, assures Upra Lacaune. She is a real champion.”
Around 80% of the farms are specialized in milk production. From the 1970s, a “meat branch” was created: Lacaune meat, bred for the production of breeding rams. They are found mainly in the Midi-Pyrénées region (80%), mainly in the Aveyron and Tarn, and the Languedoc-Roussillon region (11%).

The Lacaune sheep is the breed used to make Roquefort cheese.

The Lacaune sheep is the breed used to make Roquefort cheese.

The legendary Roquefort

If there is a legendary cheese, it is Roquefort. Qualified as the “king of cheeses” by Diderot, it is the oldest cheese Appellation d’origine. Marie Jougla, who loves working with milk, explains to us that before 1925 “Roquefort was made with goat’s milk and sheep’s milk. Today it is made exclusively with Lacaune sheep”. Once harvested, the truck heads for the Roquefort cellars. Unique places for ripening cheese, where it needs a minimum of fourteen days. In this breeding of the Lacaune mountains, Marie assures that grazing is privileged. “Here we don’t drive by technical ability, but grass-fed milk production.” The recipe has been the same for 100 years. “From spring to the beginning of winter, the ewes graze. When there is a birth, the calf is left to nurse for a month without milking the mother.” After the collection truck has passed, there is still milk in the sheepfold. “Residuals” valued by a “right to produce”. In fact, the Roquefort sector tolerates the dairy itself transforming them. Marie makes sure of that at Jouglas. In 2009, she set up a cheese factory where she makes and sells dairy products like yogurt, butter and even cheese, called pérail. Tasting it, Marie tells us about its characteristics: “It’s a soft cheese with a flowery rind made from coagulated raw Lacaune sheep’s milk. It’s round and flat in shape.” And to add: “My products are for sale on site, but I also deliver to Toulouse, Lasbastide, Brassac and to local farmers’ markets.”
The world of Lacaune sheep has reason to be reassured, despite a 20% drop in sales of Roquefort over the past ten years, it is the only breed with two artificial insemination centers in France. “The general public loves the sheep,” assures Frédéric. “The foreign market is increasingly demanding.” Since the birth of 2020, many professional retraining have turned to sheep herding.

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