06 November 2009

Cheese from Selles-sur-Cher

Goat cheese — goat's milk cheese, I should say — is a fact of life here in the Loire Valley, on the same way that châteaux, wines, and rillettes de porc are. All are incontournables — they are the "essence" of the region, and there's no getting around them. Goat cheese is called fromage de chèvre, or just le chèvre or du chèvre, gramatically masculine because le fromage is understood, as opposed to la chèvre, the feminine form describing the female animal that gives the milk.

Saint-Aignan is on the edge of the aire géographique de production, the production zone, of the cheese called Selles-sur-Cher, after the name of a town just 10 miles up the river. Selles-sur-Cher goat's milk cheese has been protected and regulated by an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (A.O.C.) for about 40 years now. Cheese-makers must adhere to strict rules in order for their cheeses to carry the Selles-sur-Cher label.

Goats' milk cheese from Selles-sur-Cher in the Loire Valley

One of those rules is that the goat's milk used to make the cheese must come from animals raised within the production zone along the Cher River, including parts of the old Sologne and Berry provinces. The native plants that the goats feed on in this particular area give a special flavor to their milk, which has to be full-fat (whole milk) and raw (unpasteurized). It is curdled with a small amount of rennet (présure in French) and the little round cheeses are sprayed with a mixture of pulverized wood ash and salt, which also helps give them a distinctive flavor as they age.

Goat cheese with French bread, bien sûr

Selles-sur-Cher cheeses are shaped like little disks about an inch high and three to four inches across, with slightly beveled edges. The cheese itself is a pure white color, and it is smooth but with a very fine grain — it's very slightly chalky in texture. Each one weighs about 7 ounces when fresh, but that weight decreases to 5 ounces as the cheese ages and dries out.

The cheeses are aged a minimum of 10 days at 55º to 60ºF and 85 to 95% humidity. You can buy Selles-sur-Cher cheeses fresh, semi-dry, or dry. The flavor intensifies as the cheese ages and dries out. Fresh ones are good spread on bread melted, and very dry ones are good eaten as they are with bread or grated into sauces. All are good sliced and slightly melted on bread served on top of a green salad — that's called une salade de chèvre chaud.

A semi-dry chèvre from Selles-sur-Cher
it's what I had for supper last night.

As they age, the cheeses develop a slightly blue-colored mold on their crust. At the markets around Saint-Aignan, I often hear customers asking the cheese vendors for « un bleu » — un bleu mi-sec or un bleu sec — and what they mean is a goat cheese that has been cured or dried the way they prefer it. They're not asking for what is called "blue cheese" elsewhere.

People who know recommend that you not scrape or cut the crust off a Selles-sur-Cher goat's milk cheese — you should eat it along with the white cheese inside. The powdered wood ash and salt give the cheese a good flavor. The mold or fungus that grows on them is actually good for you and enhances the mild, nutty flavor.

Click this picture to enlarge it and you'll see a bluish mold
starting to grow on it. It's natural and good to eat.

About 40% of the Selles-sur-Cher cheese is made on farms by farmers, and the rest is made in dairies or co-ops. Production has really taken off over the past few decades. Selles-sur-Cher cheeses are widely available locally as well as in the Paris area. There is now an export market for them in other European countries and even in America.

The AOC label on cheeses, wines, and other French agricultural products is a protection for customers and for producers. If you want to know you are getting an authentic Selles-sur-Cher cheese, look for the label and logo. The same goes for wines and other products from different regions of France. Producers can be sure that others are not "counterfeiting" their products.

Locally, we don't worry too much about it. We more or less know the producers, and we buy what looks good. Many small producers of cheeses and wines only sell locally. Getting the AOC, with all the paperwork and inspections that are required, isn't worth their time and trouble. Most of the time, the local wines and cheeses we buy don't have labels on them at all, in fact.

The pure white cheese under the crust is starting
to soften and turn liquid around the edges.

Sometimes goat cheeses, though, are made from batches of milk that are collected over time, combined, and even frozen or dried to be used later. Those kinds of methods are not allowed under AOC rules.

A lot of people say they don't care for goat cheese. I think those people need to try some fresh Selles-sur-Cher or other fine Loire Valley goat cheese. As your taste for it develops, you can move on to cheeses that have benefited from longer aging, from the mi-sec (semi-dry) up to the very sec (dry and hard). You won't find any unpleasant "goatiness" in these cheeses, which are sweet, mild, and healthful.

Selles-sur-Cher goats' milk cheese goes especially well with a dry white wine — a Touraine Sauvignon, a Quincy, or a Sancerre, for example — or with a light-bodied red from Touraine, including but not limited to Chinon, Bourgueil, or Sancerre wines. All these products are a regular part of the local diet.


  1. Ken , 'les grands esprits se rencontrent'! Guess what I bought this morning at the Rob Gourmet Store in Brussels ... before reading your blog: a Selles-sur-Cher' goat's cheese. It's AOC too, but is blueish-grey as it has an ash coating. I'm looking forward to tasting it after lunch! Martine

  2. These pictures and descriptions make my mouth water. Selles-sur-cher, as well as St. Maure, are among my favorite cheeses. With a Loire Sauvignon Blanc, of course. Unfortunately, both cheeses are very difficult to find in the US now.

  3. Martine, I hope you enjoy the cheese.

    Bob, are there any people making goat cheese in Maine? Do you have a Whole Foods with a good cheese counter there?

  4. I brought home a Selles sur Cher goat cheese from Paris a couple of weeks ago and it made it through US customs, even though there was a notice in my bag that my luggage had been inspected! YEA!!

    This is one of my most favorite cheeses. Thanks for this post, Ken.


  5. Oh, how I do love chèvre. Thanks for the informative post :)

  6. Chèvre chaud salad is my favorite. We have a local goat cheese maker here now and I use it for my salads.

    PBProvence who used to run a B&B in Maussane told me her simple way of making the bread part. Slice some bread and add the cheese with a bit of honey and herbes de provence and broil a short while. It's so good.

  7. Evelyn, the Provencal recipe sounds really delicious. I love honey drizzled on anything but I have never tried it on cheese.
    Once in a while I see fig jam and sometimes quince paste served with cheese.
    Ken last night I watched "Food, inc" (about the US food industry, exposing how our nation's food supply is controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment). I thought of you and the beef of Salers that is grass fed. If you ever can get that documentary, it is fascinating and very sad at the same time. But checking out "Paris daily photo", I was amazed to find out that McDonald serve WHOLE WHEAT buns in France. I think they serve wine too. The comments on that blog were interesting.

  8. I'm going to do that, Evelyn, that way. It sounds very Provençal and delicious. Thanks for the idea.

    Nadège, I have to say I can't remember the last time I went to eat anything at a McDo in France -- it must have been in the 1970s in Paris. Whole wheat bread -- but does it have palm oil and sugar in it? I'm such a skeptic.

  9. Is broiling the same as grilling ?

  10. Yes, Jean, broil means to cook under a grill (not over a fire, that's grilling or barbecuing).

  11. I've never actually noticed where our chevre originates. I'll have to remember to check it next time.

  12. Great, mouthwatering photos of a delicious cheese! That is my kind of dinner! :)

  13. Ken, Yes, there are a number of goat cheese producers in Maine. There is one in particular that is outstanding. She trained in Provence, and in fact recently visited a small cheese producer in the Selles-sur-cher area and took some lessons. We visited her a few weeks ago, and she was experimenting with making a Selles-sur-cher look-alike. It was very good.
    As to Whole Foods, yes, the local store does have a pretty good cheese counter, although I have not seen this type of cheese, or other Loire goat cheeses, in awhile.

  14. just bought a slightly mouldy looking selles-sur-cher from a great cheesemonger (fromagerie?) -I.J. Mellis - in Glasgow - a bit nervous, but I love goats cheese and felt compelled to at least try some....


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