This is what a wedge of Cantal cheese looks like. Cantal is one of two AOC cheeses made in the Cantal département, which is the southern part of the historical Auvergne province in France. This is a photo I took in 2008, so it's Cantal cheese that I bought in Saint-Aignan, not in Auvergne. The other cheese made in the Cantal is called Salers, after the name of the town of Salers and the breed of cattle raised in the area for both meat and milk. Cantal and Salers are basically the same cheese, but with a couple of important differences. Cantal can be made year-round, including in winter when the cows are kept in barns and fed hay.
Thanks to my friend Evelyn for this photo, which she took when we visited the open-air market in the town of Salers in September 2009.
It would be interesting to do a side-by-side tasting of Cantal and Salers cheeses made on the same dairy farm and similarly aged, to see if the differences are obvious. Actually, there are three "grades" or qualities of Cantal cheese: jeune (young), entre-deux (meaning "between the two" others — aged but only until semi-ripe), and vieux (ripe, mature cheese). (These terms are similar to American terms for Cheddar cheeses, which can be sold as mild, semi-sharp, or sharp, depending on how long they've been aged.)
I'm not sure if cheeses that qualify for the Salers label are sold at different levels of maturation the way Cantal cheeses are. However, there are at least two grades of Salers cheese. The Salers area is known for its particular breed of cattle, also called Salers, but not all the cheese made in the area is made from Salers cows' milk. The milk of other breeds of cows can go into the cheese, and the cheese can still be called either Cantal or Salers — depending on the season and whether the cows have grazed outdoors or have been fed only hay (dried grasses and plants) before being milked.
However, cheese made exclusively from the milk of cows of the Salers breed and no others can be labeled as Salers-Salers. I think the name might be sort of like the name given to the sparkling wine from Champagne that is made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes and called blanc de blancs — white wine made from the juice of white grapes.
This is what the Salers cows look like. They are prized not only for their milk, but also for their meat. As for the cheese, when we went to a dairy farm near Saint-Chamant, south of Salers, to see the cheese being made, I asked at what point the cheese cultures were added to the milk. The answer was that no cultures need to be added — the cultures occur naturally in the area and are in the air and in the chestnut-wood vats in which the cheese is left to curdle.
There is historical evidence that the Romans, when they invaded Gaul 2,000 years ago, found people in the Auvergne region making cheese like modern-day Cantal — it might be France's oldest cheese. It could well be that the Romans took knowledge of those cheese-making methods to the British Isles, shared them with the local people, and that that's how our not-so-different Cheddar cheeses came to be made in England
In September 2009, I wrote and published a series of five posts, with photos, about our visit to a dairy farm near Salers and Saint-Chamant (Cantal) and about the cheeses called Salers and Cantal. Here's a link to the first post in that series. Each post contains links at the top and bottom to all the other posts in the series so you can navigate to them easily.
If that cheese smells and tastes as divine as it looks I know where I am going to plan my next holiday to take me. Thank you for this great post.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the comment. The cheese is great, the landscapes are stunning, and the châteaux and churches are stunning. I hope we'll all be able to travel again one day. I actually informally reserved (have still to pay the deposit) a gîte rural (a vacation rental owned by an old friend) for later this year. It's about three hours south of here, near two or three big towns/small cities that I've never visited before. I'm an optimist.Delete
A very informative post, Ken. You teach us something new every day!ReplyDelete
You asked yesterday why we had no internet. We had a monstrous electrical storm on the afternoon of July 4th, natural fireworks. :) The whole neighborhood was out.Delete
Thanks for the explanation. I remember we had a bad thunderstorm 10 or 12 years ago. A lightning strike close to the house fried our DSL modem/router. You remember when you were here all those years ago and the storm we had. It was like that but with a lot of thunder and lightning. I had to go buy a new modem to get service back, and that took a few days.Delete
Love those Salers cows. I think they may be extra tame. Cows and horses usually have flies on them in the summertime. Their tails help some, guess it's part of their normal.ReplyDelete
ainsi que je l'ai déjà écrit sur ce blog, un tout petit plus au sud du Cantal il y a l'Aveyron avec l'Aubrac et un fromage ressemblant au Salers : le Laguiole. Et regardez sur internet à quoi ressemblent les vaches de la race Aubrac, elles sont superbes avec leurs yeux maquillés et leurs cornes majestueuses. Quant elles vous regardent elles sont hautaines et ont l'air de se moquer de vous !ReplyDelete
Very informative post. The cheese has a very orange color in the first picture. And interesting that you don't have to add any cultures to make the Cantal. The cows are very attractive and remind me of ones in the Lascaux paintings.ReplyDelete
When I read your comment, my first thought was that maybe that cheese was Salers and not Cantal, because I've read that cows that are grazing produce milk and therefore cheese which has a pronounced yellow color. I went back into my 2008 photos and found a photo of the cheese with its label on it. It was Cantal Entre-Deux, medium ripe in other words. Anyway, the color of cheese does vary according to what plants the cow was eating before she was milked.Delete
This has been a fascinating and informative series for me, Ken! I had heard of Cantal cheese, but now, I must search it out and try to taste it! Merci pour your excellent reporting!ReplyDelete
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