Lavender, Honey and Cheese, Oh My!

Lavender, Honey and Cheese, Oh My!


Imagine Provence. What comes to mind?

Endless fields of purple lavender alternating with the brilliant yellow of sunflowers? The cool rosé wines of summer? Olive oils and cheeses? Stone villages? AUCP Summer students did it all, spending last Wednesday exploring quintessential Provence accompanied by professor Marie-Anne Rossignol and program director Lilli Engle.

Students discovered the ins and outs of lavender farming, and were lucky enough to visit the fields of lavender while they were in full bloom. Lavender blooms for just three weeks each year, so it was a truly special experience. The photographs are simply straight out of a postcard.

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The AUCP Summer class then moved on to explore the Musée de l’abeille (the Bee Museum), discovering a whole array of products made from honey – from beauty products to vinegar. They then, most importantly, saw the bees at work making the world famous Provençal lavender honey – miel de lavande – known for is creamy texture and inimitable flavor.

After a gourmet picnic at the nearby Petit Saint-Jean olive orchard – whose olive oil (best described as ardente – frank and pungent ) regularly wins the Médaille d’Or at the annual Salon de l’Agriculture in Paris. Honorary member of the French Cheesemakers’ Guild, Lilli presented the students with a tasting of France’s best cheeses, from Napoleon’s favorite (l’époisse) to the goat cheese of Banon, hand-wrapped and aged in chestnut leaves.

« To know French cheeses is to better understand the French themselves – their love of craftsmanship, refined tastes, and the terroir —  the grounding of life in the romantic specificity of products that are the living expression of time, place, and tradition, » shares Lilli.

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Finally, students had the chance to explore Moustiers Saint-Marie, one of the most beautiful villages in France, nestled on the side of towering cliffs with a refreshing cascade of water animating the central square.

All agreed that it was a memorable day of discovery and learning about the Provençal way of life – beautiful, delicious, indulgent and precious –quite different from the fast-paced, demanding life of a typical American university student.

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AUCP excursions allow students experience first-hand the multiple facets of Provençal life, well outside the limits of Aix-en-Provence and the AUCP campus. Past excursions this summer included a visit to the ancient city of Marseille, founded by the Greeks in 600 B.C., the post-card perfect hilltop villages of Provence. Last night they enjoyed an evening at the operas of the world-renowned Festival d’Aix, and today, after a morning of intensive French study, it’s off to a local vineyard and winery at the foot of the Mont Ste Victoire – more about that in our next blog!