Noel Donati was in his mid thirties, running a bar in Marseille, when the opportunity came up, to take a change of direction. He had wanted to return to his Corsican homeland for some time. When a cousin told him aboutopening a cabin called Vachaghja, he seized the opportunity.
There had been many shepherds in his family and Noel, felt that is was his vocation.
Some twenty years later, he is still there, well established and happily selling his cheese to hikers on the GR20. Originally, he practiced the double transhumance from January to April his herd of 130 goats would live down by the sea, near to Girolata. In May, they returned to the village home, in Casamaccioli, the Niolu. Then, in early June, Noel takes his goats, his dog, 3 mules and his horse up to the high pastures and summer cabin at 1568m altitude, where they would all spend 4 months. Going up to the high ground for the summer, is called, in Corsican, ‘a muntagnera.’
His daily routine starts at 5am, milking the goats from 5h30, when it’s done, he takes his milk and starts preparing his cheese. He uses the same utensils that have always been at the cabin, the wooden planks, the wooden spoon, the same age old copper cauldron.
‘Nothing has changed here and nothing ever will, so long as I’m around.’ He told me wryly, one morning.
It’s not just the cheese that is good, Noel can cook, he does wild boar stew, or a veal and olive ragout, that is memorable. In the evenings, the table is always laid, a fire always burning in the hearth and Noel ready to receive passers-by, or friends. You never know who will knock on the big wooden door. There are two guitars for those who like to play, bottles of chilled aperitif and local red wines to accompany the food and the singing.
When I am asked ‘Where is your favorite place in Corsica?’ I smile and think of Noel at Vaccaghja.