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Holy cow: French monks with too much cheese seek salvation online

A French monastery in the heart of Burgundy launched an emergency online sale Friday to get rid of thousands of its prized artisanal cheeses, which are languishing in its cellars as Covid-19 keeps buyers away.

Holy cow: French monks with too much cheese seek salvation online
The monks teamed up with start-up Divine Box, which sells products made by abbeys in France and elsewhere, with a goal of selling at least a tonne of cheese by Tuesday. Photo: AFP

The Citeaux abbey just south of Dijon, birthplace of the Cistercian Catholic order, usually sells its raw-milk, semi-soft discs only to restaurants or visitors who make the trek to its on-site shop.

But a drop in demand since the coronavirus crisis erupted last year has left the abbey’s 19 Trappist monks with 4,000 cheeses too many — the equivalent of 2.8 tonnes.

“We tried explaining to our 75 cows that they needed to produce less milk but they don’t seem to have understood,” brother Jean-Claude, in charge of marketing at the monastery founded in 1098, told AFP.

“Our sales are down nearly 50 percent,” he said, with French restaurants still closed since October 30 as authorities try to curb a third wave of cases. “We need to clear out our stock.”

It’s a sin for fans of a cheese made by the monks since 1925, which won the silver medal at last year’s international food and drink competition in Lyon, a bastion of France’s culinary heritage.

READ ALSO: French eat record amounts of cheese to help them through pandemic

The monks teamed with the internet start-up Divine Box, which sells products made by abbeys in France and elsewhere, with a goal of selling at least a tonne of cheese by Tuesday.

The minimum order is two wheels at €23 each, plus shipping.

“We’re going to make it,” Jean-Claude said, with more than 700 kilogrammes already ordered according to the site.

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COVID-19

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The French parliament has passed the controversial health bill which updates France's emergency provisions for Covid - and allows the return of negative Covid tests for all travellers at the border, if the health situation requires.

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The Loi sanitaire was eventually approved by the Assemblée nationale on Monday after several variations and amendments added on its passage through the Assemblée and the Senate. It was voted on and passed Tuesday, May 26th. 

The bill replaces the State of Health Emergency that has been in place since March 2020 and puts in place provision for government actions should the health situation deteriorate or a dangerous new variant of Covid emerge.

The original text had a provision for the return of the health pass at the border, but this has now been scrapped and instead the government has the right to make a negative Covid test a condition of entry for all travellers.

At present negative tests are required only for unvaccinated travellers, and the new test requirement would only be put into force if a dangerous new variant emerges.

The government will be able to implement the testing rule by decree for two months, but a further parliamentary debate would be required to extend it beyond that.

From August 1st the State of Health Emergency will be formally repealed, which means that the government no longer has the power to introduce major limits on personal freedom such as lockdowns or curfews without first having a debate in parliament.

The bill also allows for an extension of data collection required for the SI-DEP epidemic monitoring tools such as the contact tracing app Tous Anti Covid until June 30th, 2023 and Contact Covid until January 31st, 2023. 

The most controversial measure in the bill was the reinstatement of healthcare workers who were suspended for being unvaccinated – this actually only involves a couple of hundred people but medical unions and the medical regulator Haut Autorité de Santé (HAS) have both been against it.

However the bill allows for the eventual lifting of the requirement for Covid vaccination for healthcare workers, when the HAS judges it is no longer necessary and once the requirement is lifted, the suspended healthcare workers will be reinstated “immediately”.

The bill was approved on Monday evening with 184 votes to 149, the result of a joint committee that was able to harmonise the versions of the Assembly and the Senate.

The final vote passed the Senate on Tuesday.

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