Saturday, September 5, 2015

Makin’ paper: A visit to Moulin de la Rouzique

Couze-et-St-Front is a village that was particularly well-suited to being a hub of paper manufacturing beginning in the Middle Ages. Paper mills need the flowing water of a river in order to operate. The ph levels of the pure water of the Couze river offered the perfect ingredient; it is said that paper made here could last 500 years. The Couze flows into the Dordogne river, providing easy transport to to Bordeaux and then on to the Netherlands, where most of the Couze paper ended up.
A building on the grounds of Moulin de la Rouzique

Coza (an early name for the village) boasted eight working mills in 1530 and 13 in the 17th century, making it one of France’s largest paper-producing towns. In the 20th century, the mills closed and now only two remain: The Larroque water mills still produce some hand-made paper, and the Moulin de la Rouzique is an écono-musée du papier (an eco-museum). Our recent visit to Rouizique offers a lesson in the history of paper-making, instruction in the process and even a chance to make our own paper.

An antique hand-cart at Moulin de la Rouzique
Our visit starts in a large parking area containing picnic tables along the river bank. We cross a small bridge and come to the museum where we buy our tickets in the gift shop. We are told the tour will be in French and are given a printed English translation. As it turns out, our guide is happy to provide a bilingual tour. We have arrived just after lunch and our small group includes the three of us (including a teenager), a family of four including two children around 6-10 years old, and another family of three. (At the end of our tour, we notice the next group is much larger, and we are grateful we arrived early). I mention the demographics of our group because as it turns out, Moulin de la Rouzique is a terrific place for people of all ages to visit.

Looking for fish in the River Couze at Moulin de la Rouzique
Paper manufactured in the Couze mills came from rags rather than trees. After a brief introduction, our group heads to the rag-sorting room. Fabrics were made of natural fibers from plants and so were well-suited to being recycled into paper. After being sorted and having all fasteners removed, the rags were cut into small pieces called petassous (an Occitan word) and soaked for several weeks. For a few hundred years, these rags were crushed into pulp by a machine operated by a water wheel, but it wasn’t very efficient and eventually it was replaced by a machine invented in Holland, which is logically called the Dutch machine.

The ancient rag-pressing machine at Moulin de la Rouzique
We head outside to take a close look at the wheels and then inside to the part of the mill that contains the moulding machine and large (1000-litre) vats where paper pulp is soaked. Next stop is the paper-drying part of the operation. Here we learn why the paper-making industry of Couze is so closely tied to the Netherlands. Any guesses?

Water wheels, new and old, at Moulin de la Rouzique

The modern paper press at Moulin de la Rouzique

The vat at Moulin de la Rouzique holds the paper pulp
and 1000 litres of water.

In the 17th century, the Netherlands became the European center of book printing providing the natural link between the mills along the River Couze and Holland.

Our tour guide demonstrates how to turn pulp into paper at Moulin de la Rouzique.

An ancient press at Moulin de la Rouzique
Now that we’ve heard all about paper-making and seen the process up close, it’s time to get our hands wet. We are ushered into a studio where we are allowed to press our own sheets out of paper pulp, some containing sprinkles or spices, and design our own watermarks. Our guide gathers our soggy sheets and, with a little help from the younger members of our group, presses the sheets, which we can then take home.

A guest tries his hand at paper-making at Moulin de la Rouzique.

Spices add some spice to the paper pulp.

The paper-making studio at Moulin de la Rouzique

Pressing the paper made by guests at Moulin de la Rouzique

Moulin de la Rouzique, locacted in Couze-et-St-Front (24) near Lalinde in the Dordogne department, is open daily (closed Saturday except in the summer) 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. April through October. For information, call or visit The mill has some special events planned for les Journees du Patrimoine, Sept. 19-20. 

Adjusting the water wheel in the Hydrouzique Parc at Moulin de la Rouzique

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