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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Cantal and Salers; Two of the Best Cheeses From the Auvergne, France.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman
Cantal AOP and Salers AOP.

The Cantal and Salers cheeses, are both 45% fat, semi-hard, cows’ milk cheeses, made with milk from the Salers breed of cattle. Both cheeses are produced in Cantal, one of the four départements in the région of the Auvergne, and both claim origins that go back 2,000 years to when the Romans occupied much of  France.  The cheeses’  true origins may not go back to the Roman Empire, but certainly they go back a few hundred years.

Cantal AOP

The Cantal cheese has two versions, a farm produced version called a Cantal Fermier  made with un-pasteurized milk, and a dairy produced version called a Cantal Laitier  made with pasteurized milk. Cantal AOP, in both farm and dairy versions comes in three age groups.

  Jeune or Doux  Young and mild. t=The youngest cheese, matured from just one to three months; it has an ivory color and a mild slightly nutty flavor.

 Entre Deux – Between the two;  cheese matured for 3 to 6 months. This is a  yellow cheese tasting somewhat like a cheddar.

 Vieux -  Old;  this cheese is matured for at least six months. A Vieux Cantal AOP cheese begins, with a taste somewhat similar to the taste of mature cheddar  and after nine months to a year or even older it will be very different with a texture somewhat similar to Parmesan but with a much stronger taste

A wheel of cantal.
Salers AOP

The Salers AOP  is one of only two [i]French cheeses that for their AOP label must not only be 100% the product of cows that are free grazing in the high pastures, but the cheese itself must be made there. When the cows that produce the Salers AOP cheese are  brought down from their mountain pastures their milk cannot be used for the Salers AOP cheese.


Taking Cantal AOP and Salers AOP home.
Buy your Cantal AOP  in a Fromagerie, a specialist cheese shop. If they have regular customers who buy Cantal they will offer at least two options, and if you look like a serious customer you may be offered a sliver of each to compare. Salers AOP is not available the whole year round  and at times you may have to check a number of cheese shops until you find some.
Taking a whole Cantal AOP and or a Salers AOP cheese home will not be easy; both cheeses come in wheels that weigh between 35 to 45 kilos (77 to 100 lbs)!  There are smaller wheels  of the Cantal AOP cheese, but they will also swamp your airline weight allowance.   The smallest Cantal AOP wheel, called a Cantalet, weighs  about 8- 10 kil0s (18 to 22 pounds) and the medium size, called the Petit Cantal, weighs between 16-20 kilos (34 to 24 lbs).
Taking home a kilo or two of a Cantal AOP or Salers AOP cheese is not difficult; buy a wedge of freshly cut cheese and have it wrapped in plastic wrap and vacuum wrapped. Semi-hard cheeses travel for a day or two, if kept out of direct heat.  When you arrive home, keep the cheese in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic wrap, but not in the freezer.  Treat Cantal like cheddar in the refrigerator. Well wrapped and in the refrigerator Cantal  will keep well for one or two months, or at least until you have finished eating it.  See the link to buying Cheese in France and taking it home at the end of this post.
The names Cantal and Salers
The name Cantal,  the name of the department in the Auvergne, comes from the Monts du Cantal, the Cantal mountains, These  mountains are set around an enormous extinct volcano in the center of the department. The village of Salers is at an altitude of 950 meters in the center of Cantal; it was once a medieval city and now is one of the most beautiful villages in all of France.

A view of the village of Salers.
Photograph courtesy of florriebassingbourn.
The other names of these cheeses:
The Fourme de Cantal AOP and the Fourme de Salers AOP
The French word fourme, part of the name of many other French cheeses, comes from the Latin word for the shape. Fourme was also the old French word for cheese before fromage became accepted;  the Italian word for cheese, formaggio, has the same Latin origin.
Cantal AOP and Salers AOP on French menus.
The Salers AOP cheese is only rarely seen on menus and then usually, at the centerpiece of a cheese plate. The Cantal AOP cheese is more often on the menu and is essential for the Cantal version of Aligot, one the Auvergne’s most popular dishes.The Cantal  Aligot [ii] is a young Cantal AOP blended with mashed potatoes and olive oil. 
In Auvergne restaurants, your menu may offer:
Clafoutis Moelleux aux Cantal AOP – A soft clafoutis[iii], made with a crepe-like batter and Cantal AOP  cheese.  Whether  a clafoutis should be considered a  tart, flan or pie is much disputed.
Filet de Veau Cuit en Base Température, Jus[iv] de Moutarde, Croquette de  Pomme de Terre au Cantal. A fillet veal of  cooked at a low temperature, served with a gravy made from the natural cooking juices and mustard,  accompanied by potato croquettes made with Cantal cheese.
La Truffade du Cantal – The truffade of Cantal is a traditional dish from the Auvergne. The truffade du Cantal is made of sliced potatoes  cooked with Cantal cheese, flavored with bacon and garlic; all is cooked together and served like a cake. Occasionally this dish may be on the menu with Salers AOP.

Travelling in Cantal and the Auvergne
Nearly all Frenchmen and women will have tried Cantal AOP and or Salers AOP cheeses; however, few will have visited the beautiful department of Cantal.  Cantal has a population of just under 150,000; that’s just about 26 people per square km.
To find Cantal on a map of France take a pin and point it at France’s geographic center; that is the region of Auvergne with the department of Cantal in Auvergne’s South-West.  Apart from their two AOP cheeses Cantal, the department, has many other excellent local cheeses; however, with their limited production most of these  other cheeses may only be bought and tasted locally.

Map of France with the Auvergne. Cantal is department number 15.
Apart from the large extinct volcanic massif in the center of the département of Cantal everywhere there are green pastures, clean running rivers and beautiful lakes. Some areas become skiing centers in the winters as the massif reaches over 1,800 meters. Cantal, like much of the région of the Auvergne,  is one of the most unspoiled parts of France.

Skiing in Cantal in winter.
Photograph courtesy of (vincent desjardins).
If you are visiting the Auvergne  consider taking their Route de Fromage, their cheese road; it includes the five AOP cheeses of the region. The nearest French Government Tourist Office will be able to supply one and you may request one by internet before you leave home. In the Auvergne try the original coq au vin[v], it is made with the Auvergne’s rarely seen Chanturgue red wine.
Connected posts:

Cantal Tourist Information:


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