After two very complicated years with the Covid, the Roquefort cellars should return to normal tourist activity this summer. The challenge is major for the territory since it allows the development of an economy parallel to the industrial activity of the production of the king of cheeses.
The season got off to a timid start in April. But in recent weeks, tourists are really back. After two years disrupted, as everywhere, by the Covid, visits to the Roquefort cellars offered by Société should once again become a must in tourism this year. In 2020, disrupted by the Covid, the company had adapted, but tourists had found it difficult to lock themselves in, even in very small groups, in basements. In 2021, things got better, but the measures remained restrictive.
This time, if the Covid is still lurking, the masks have fallen off, and visitors seem to want to move on. This time, the four guides on permanent contracts for the year and the dozen seasonal workers (who arrived in March and who will stay until the end of October) should have a lot of work. In a few days, the last breads of Roquefort will come out of the cellars, seasonal production requires), but fictitious cheeses will replace them, as every year. This should not disturb the experience of visitors, to whom Société des caves will offer its well-rehearsed scenario: a short film to discover the legend of the creation of Roquefort, then a second, slightly more technical one. This is followed by the descent into the cavities, the discovery of the natural fleurines, which allow good air circulation and which are so specific to Combalou. Finally, the profession of the master refiner is presented, before, a compulsory passage, a final tasting.
Restaurants to diversify the offer
After the two years of Covid, Société des caves does not want to display a quantified objective too much. But in 2019, the bar of 80,000 visitors had been passed. “Between farm visits (see figure) and that of the cellars, the objective is to make people understand what is happening upstream, explains Hugues Meaudre, the general manager of Lactalis AOP et Terroirs. We are also counting on our restaurants to make the link. Several years ago, the company opened Les Fleurines, a restaurant that offers a whole series of dishes around the king of cheeses. And this season, it has also taken over the small snack bar in the heart of the village, which will offer a less cooked but complementary offer. The objective is clear: multiply the services to offer an ever more complete experience to tourists.
In parallel with Société des caves, Papillon, the second largest producer of Roquefort in terms of volume, also offers visits from its small shop, in the heart of the village. This is also the case for Gabriel Coulet, on the other side of the main street.