Until the end of the 19th century, the Breton Pie Noir, which was raised throughout Brittany, was one of the most widespread French cattle breeds (with numbers totaling 700,000 in 1900). Used for both beef and dairy, it derives its name from its black and white coat. Its rich milk led to the development in the region of the confectionery sector and pig farming, initially at artisan, and then industrial scale.
In the 1960s it suffered a severe crisis when modern criteria regarded its small size and lack of specialization as negative features. Its strengths were forgotten—its hardiness, resistance to disease and ability to adapt to the poor pastures of southern Brittany. The Pie Noir has also always helped to maintain the vulnerable landscapes of the region, characterized by granite rocks and acid soils, which in some areas are periodically flooded by seawater. The milk, though not produced in high yields (less than 5,000 liters per year), is very rich in cream and the cow is a good breeder.
In 1976, when it seemed destined to disappear, a protection program was set up, the first dedicated to a cattle breed in France. This carefully controlled program allows young farmers to start farming the breed and there are currently about fifty, all belonging to the Union Bretonne Pie Noir. They practice extensive methods which respect the environment, have direct relationships with consumers and provide quality local products using traditional methods, earning a good return.
In a region where standardized intensive farming has been the dominant model since the 1970s, the enthusiastic Presidium farmers show that it is possible to construct an alternative way out of the economic and environmental impasse facing Brittany.
The Presidium aims to work on an accurate sensory description of the Breton Pie Noir’s dairy products and subsequently the meat. The most distinctive local dairy product is the fermented milk called Gwell by the producers of the Union Bretonne Pie Noir. It is produced by using the fermented product from the previous day as a starter, adding it to the fresh whole milk. Gwell is traditionally eaten with flat round buckwheat cakes (galette) or potatoes, and is an excellent ingredient for desserts. Alongside the fermented milk, the Presidium will promote the creamy and slightly acidic raw milk cream and outstanding salted butter, undertaking promotional activity to support the economic success of this venture. It is hoped this will attract more young farmers to raise this ancient Breton breed and secure its future.
The historical region of Brittany, including the present departments of Côtes d’Armor, Finistère, Ille-et-Vilaine, Morbihan and Loire Atlantique.
Presidium supported by
Union Bretonne Pie Noir
Cédric Briand (President)
tel. +33 663997294