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

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

In the village of Angles, perched on the Montagne Noire, it’s 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, which was recognized in 1925, the milk used to make Roquefort comes exclusively from Lacaune Lait breed ewes raised in the Aveyron department and some municipalities in the bordering departments”, reports the approved selection body (Upra). Here, in the Tarn, Frédéric Jougla took over the family farm 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 the 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, maternal, assures the shepherd. Their docile character 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, the selection of which is very controlled. “More than 100 years ago, the Lacaune breed was officially recognised. A standard was defined for ewes and rams of this breed and must be maintained within the selection nucleus. It is the qualifications of young breeders that make it possible to follow up on this standard and to “refuse” non-compliant animals.”

The French champion

With more than 850,000 ewes reared in France, this breed represents 50% of the French dairy sheep population. It is the first French breed in terms of numbers. “The genetic selection of animals with the highest milk yield allows an average of 200 liters per year and per ewe, ensures Upra Lacaune. She is a real champion.”
Around 80% of farms specialize in dairy production. From the 1970s, a “meat branch” was created: Lacaune meat, bred for the production of breeding rams. They are mainly found in the Midi-Pyrénées region (80%), mainly in 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 to work with milk, explains to us that before 1925, “Roquefort was made with goat’s milk and sheep’s milk. Today, it is exclusively made with Lacaune sheep”. Once harvested, the truck takes the direction of the Roquefort cellars. Unique places for maturing cheese, where it must spend a minimum of fourteen days. In this breeding of the Mounts of Lacaune, Marie assures it, one privileges the pasture. “Here, we are not running after technical prowess 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 suckle for a month without milking the mother.” After the passage of the collection truck, there is still milk in the sheepfold. “Remains” that are valued by a “right to produce”. Indeed, the Roquefort sector tolerates that the dairy transforms them itself. At the Jouglas, Marie takes care of that. In 2009, she created a cheese factory in which she manufactures and sells dairy products such as yogurts, butter and even cheese, called pérail. While tasting it, Marie tells us about its characteristics: “It is a soft cheese with a bloomy rind which is made from curdling raw whole Lacaune sheep’s milk. It is round and flat in shape.” And to add: “My products are on sale on site but I also make deliveries to Toulouse, Lasbastide, Brassac and to local farmers’ markets.”
The world of the 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,” Frédéric assures us. “The foreign market is increasingly demanding.” Since the confinement of 2020, many professional retrainings have turned to sheep farming.

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