But my journey actually began in Chavignol, an adorable village that’s famous for both cheese—Crottin de Chavignol—and wine. The village is entirely surrounded by hilly vineyards that produce the famous wines of Sancerre.
“When you come from Paris, you go to Sancerre for the wine, and you go to Chavignol for the cheese,” said Matthieu Delaporte of Domaine Delaporte, where I stopped to taste his wonderful sauvignon blanc and pinot noir. “The match of Sancerre and goat cheese is one of the most perfect pairings you can find.”
Chavignol once boasted a population of around 500 people. Now only about 80 people live in the village, though there are more than a dozen wineries. Delaporte has been buying up and renovating abandoned buildings in the village. “I am waiting for my second baby, so I am also working to repopulate the village,” he joked.
I stayed in an apartment above an art gallery, next to Chavignol’s only hotel and across the tiny square, past the fountain from cheesemaker Romain Dubois. Behind his shop’s counter was an array of Crottin de Chavignol, from a few days to 5 weeks old. When it’s young, it’s soft and white. As it ages, the rind gets harder and darker, and the taste gets stronger.
I tried not to think too much about the cheese’s etymology—it had been originally named in Sancerrois dialect for a small clay oil lamp, but since crottin in French means “dung” and because of its resemblance to … well, anyway, the name stuck.
An older man behind the counter took an aged cheese in his hand and said, “When the cheese is a little blue like this, you must eat it all, including the rind. It is very healthy for you.”
Besides the cheese, he also sold me a dry sausage (also in the crottin shape) and a cheese knife. With a stop at a boulangerie for a baguette, and a white Sancerre in tow, it was all perfect for a picnic in the hilltop village of Sancerre—recently named France’s favorite village by a French television network.
In a park near Château Sancerre, I unwrapped the Crottin de Chavignol and the sausage, tore hunks of bread, uncorked the wine, and watched the Cher River drift lazily along in the valley below. I couldn’t think of a better lunch, name be damned.
That night, as if I hadn’t eaten enough goat cheese, I ordered the local specialty at a bistro called La Taverne de Connétable on Sancerre’s main square: ravioli stuffed with parsley and dripping in Crottin de Chavignol.