Stop and Smell the Lavender

Groves of olive trees. Acres of vineyards. Herds of goats yeilding tangy cheese. Is this Texas or the South of France? Nowadays, the foods and flavors of Provence can be found a lot closer to home. Here's where—plus recipes très délicieuses.

IT HAPPENED THE FIRST TIME I visited the South of France. My boyfriend and I were nuzzling our way through the countryside in a rented Renault when suddenly the same idea struck us like a bolt of summer lightning. Seldom had we felt so close, so in tune. Gazing deeply into each other’s eyes, we asked the wordless question: “What are all these rolling hills, limestone bluffs, oak trees, and prickly-pear cacti doing in France?” No, we hadn’t been mysteriously teleported back to Texas: Provence is a dead ringer for the Hill Country.

Until recently, though, the resemblance stopped with the terrain. The singular terroir of Provence—the character of the land that manifests itself in the region’s wine, olives and olive oil, herbs, lavender, goat cheese, lamb, and honey—had no homegrown counterpart. But all that has changed in the past decade, as a gaggle of entrepreneurs—some starry-eyed, some sharp-eyed—has started transforming the local landscape. So one balmy week this spring, I hit the road to find out what’s happening in the mythical region of Provence, Texas.

Just outside the town of Dripping Springs (affectionately called “Drippin’ ” by the natives), I turned off the main highway and followed narrow country roads to the sixty-acre farm where Sara and Denny Bolton have been making their prize-winning Pure Luck goat cheese for ten years. After being nibbled and drooled on by a herd of pushy female goats, I went with Sara’s daughter and fellow cheesemaker Amelia Sweethardt into the spotless small building where the cheese is produced. As I asked questions and generally got in her way, she scooped and packaged creamy white mounds of chèvre. Pure Luck’s main product is fresh goat cheese, both plain and flavored (I love the chipotle), but it also turns out five other types, including a piquant, log-shaped Sainte Maure and Del Cielo, a lusciously soft aged version that’s similar to Camembert. On most weekends and holidays, you can wander around the farm, pet the goats, and buy cheese on the honor system from a tiny hut across the road. You might even come home with an armful of fresh flowers too, since Pure Luck also grows snapdragons, zinnias, larkspur, and a dozen other species.

Out at Hill Country Lavender, owners Jeannie Ralston and Robb Kendrick had been praying to the rain gods to stop, to no avail: Their fields of lavender were green, not purple. “It’s the cool, wet weather,” Ralston said, looking a little frazzled. “The plants are way behind schedule.” Ever since she and Kendrick—who are married—visited a lavender farm on a trip to France, they’ve been obsessed with raising it themselves. “We put

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