Sara Weber, a French native, is one of five French House assistants we will feature this year and her story is one that many Wisconsinites will relate to and appreciate. Despite growing up on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Sara is no stranger to farms, cheese, and dairy cows. In fact, she grew up on a family farm that produces a special type of French cheese prized the world over. While she pursues her studies at UW-Madison, she seems to have found a home away from home.
Where are you from in France?
I’m from the east of France, in the Jura department near Switzerland. It’s a very mountainous area, there are no big cities and it’s very rural with lots of farmers.
Is that region known for anything in particular? Is it anything like Wisconsin?
It’s known for its cheese, just like Wisconsin! It’s not the same type, however. Here it’s more cheddar, whereas where I come from the cheese is called Comté. It comes from cows that are on the pastures, the system itself is based on grass and pasture. My parents are farmers of dairy cows and our cows are used to produce Comté. Another specialty [in the Jura department] is ‘vin jaune’ or yellow wine, a special type of wine, very well-known , in France. It’s a bit like white wine but sweeter and stronger. Every year we have ‘La Perceé du Vin Jaune’, one of the biggest wine events in France. It’s once a year and they auction the most famous bottles. It’s a huge event that I enjoy!
First impressions of campus, of Madison?
The campus is huge! I mean, compared to my school, my university, we are about 1,000 students, so the school seems enormous to me. It’s impressive. Madison is amazing, I really like the area here with State Street, it’s a lot of fun. Madison is not too big but it’s also big enough, it’s a good size I would say. I’ve visited some farms for school, so I’ve also seen some rural farms and that’s been pretty amazing. Lots of corn and soy beans.
What are you studying?
In France I’m studying Engineering in Agronomy. It’s a five year program but I’m specializing in Dairy Science, so all my classes are about dairy science.
Why did you choose to come here?
Firstly, the classes here are very focused on dairy science and there are a lot of them. Secondly, there’s the World Dairy Expo! This was a huge reason for me to choose to come here at this time of the year. I also have a friend that was here a year and a half ago and she really enjoyed it. And I also wanted to speak English.
What’s been your most enjoyable experience so far?
Probably the World Dairy Expo. At UW-Madison there’s a club called the Badger Dairy Club, which has quite a lot of students. Every year they work at the expo and help with the setup, cheese stand, show-ring, and all the décor in the show-ring. They keep everything clean and nice during the shows and even pick up cow poop! I was there for 10 days and the club really invests a lot in it, spending long days there, but it’s amazing because you see all the cows, the best cows probably in the world. There are also lots of companies that attend so if you need to network it’s a great place. There are farmers that have their cows there and you meet lots of other students. This past year was the Expo’s 50th anniversary. It was a big big deal.
What’s your favorite animal and why?
A cow! Because my parents are dairy farmers, I grew up being around cows all the time. My parents transmitted to me their passion for being dairy farmers and breeding the cow(s) you want to work with. When I was six, I was asking my parents “What’s this cow’s name?” “This is Josephine” or “this is Megan” they would say. I was also asking who the mom and dad were. I’m really happy to know which cow comes from which other cows, to know who her ancestors were. You can really see the evolution.
What should readers know about the annual World Dairy Expo that takes place in Madison?
It’s the biggest cow show you can find with the best animals, cows from North America and Canada too. It’s just huge. It’s also fun for people who aren’t really familiar with it, they can take their children and show them some things. There are also lots of international individuals and companies there too. I even met people from France. I actually got an interview for an internship with a French company who was at the Expo. They are actually working with North America to bring our cows from France here.
What happens at a cow competition anyway?
The cows are prepared very well. Their hair is cut, they make them shiny and nice, there’s a judge or two who choose the best cow according to their utters, or body, or how tall or strong she is. She needs to look like a dairy cow, like she’s giving a lot of milk. It’s only female cows. There’s also an auction that’s held where they sell about 50 animals. Some small cows were sold for $100,000 dollars for example. It’s a big business, this cow show.
Have you tried Wisconsin cheese curds? Thoughts?
Yes, I love them! I really really love them. I was disappointed that I hadn’t had it before in my life. How could I have missed this? I think I was at Dotty’s [Dumpling Dowry]. I tried some and was like, I need more of this! I’ll try to make this a thing in France. I’ll have to bring it over.
What will Sara be doing 10 years from now?
I think I’ll be a dairy farmer. After finishing my studies I’d like first to work for a genetics company to work on cow selection, to learn how to sell genetics all over the world. After that I definitely want to be a dairy farmer. In France preferably, producing Comté because I really like the cows on the pasture system and we have a good milk price [over there]. I’d like to maybe have 60 cows with my brothers and my family.