Saturday, December 13, 2014

Crottin de Chavignol AOP. One of France’s outstanding goats’ milk cheeses.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated June 2017
Different ages of Crottin de Chavignol
and production stages.
N.B. Crottin de Chavignol is pronounced krotan de chavinol)

The Crottin de Chavignol.
The Crottin de Chavignol, an excellent, creamy when young, 45% fat, goats’ milk cheese, made with non-pasteurized milk.   The minimum permitted aging is ten days and from then on the cheese is sold with varying degrees of maturity, some as long as three months or more. The youngest cheeses are mild and may be served warm in salads. The young cheese has a white rind, and as the cheese matures, the rind takes on a bluish tinge that cheese lovers look for. Those who want the best will only order cheeses aged for three or months or more; then cheese will be crumbly and develops its distinctive taste with a kick.  The smallest of these cheeses weigh just 60 grams (2.10 ounces) and are about 5cm (2”) wide by 2.5 cms high (1”) 
The goats of Chavignol.

The village of Chavignol is set in a very active neighborhood; to begin with, it is just 3.7km (2.19 miles) away from the town of Sancerre so famous for its excellent wines.  All around are villages that are active in cheese making, running snail farms, wine making, and other local industries. Administratively Chavignol has been recognized as part of Sancerre, so I expect that over the years Chavignol with its less than 300 inhabitants will become a Sancerre suburb.

The ages of Chavignol.
The blue rind is the first sign of a strong and mature cheese. When the rind begins to turn blue, it will be about three months old.  That is when a Crottin de Chavignol should be purchased to take home and eaten within one or two weeks, or you may find a cheese of this age on a restaurant's cheese trolley.  Outside of the area, not every fromagerie will stock Crottin de Chavignol.  With France’s 43 AOP cheeses and at least another 400 registered cheeses fighting for shelf space, not even the largest cheese shop can carry everything.  Then keeping cheese correctly and holding even 50 cheeses that are properly aged is a very expensive process.  Fromageries will stock the most popular cheeses, their own choices and hold monthly specials.  I spent some time with a Maître Fromager, a cheese master, in the nearby city of Bourges. This well-educated cheese maven was also the owner of an excellent cheese store selling Crottin de Chavignol. He offers his customers and, on my visit me also, slivers of this cheese at two or three stages of maturity and points out the different ages of each and allows the buyer to choose among the different tastes.
When buying a Chavignol to take home remember that cheeses with unpasteurized milk brought to the USA need to be clearly marked that they have been aged for over sixty days. The UK accepts the European Union inspected unpasteurized cheeses without any restrictions.

The village of Chavignol.
The village of Chavignol gave the cheese its name and remains a small and beautiful village in the department of Cher in the region of Centre-Val de Loire. The department of Cher is part of the ancient province of Berry in the Loire Valley and home to many famous wines and cheeses.  Berry has five excellent goat’s  cheeses including the Crottin de Chavignol AOP;  the Valençay AOP; the Pouligny Saint Pierre AOP;  the Selles sur Cher, AOP, and the  Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine AOP
Crottin de Chavignol  on French menus:

Salade de Crottin de Chavignol, (Salade Verte, Crottin Chaud, Tomate, Magret Fumé) – A green salad made with a young Crottin de Chavignol served warm, along with tomato and smoked duck breast.
The three ages of a Crottin de Chavignol.
The top cream-colored cheese is fresh. The center is called “bluish” and is ready to eat but mild. 
The cheese marked affine is “properly aged” and the choice of the cheese mavens.
La Tarte au Crottin de Chavignol – A cheese tart made with the Crottin de Chavignol.
Le Burger au Crottin de Chavignol – A cheeseburger made with the Crottin de Chavignol.
Crottin de Chavignol Chaud sur  Pain Poilâne Toasté - Crottin de Chavignol served on toasted Polar bread also called Swedish bread or Nordic bread. This bread is the traditional rye flour flat bread with dimples.
Crottin de Chavignol sur  Toast au Miel d'Acacia et Pignons de Pin - Crottin de Chavignol cheese served on toast with Acacia honey and pine nuts.
Acacia Honey.
Crottin de Chavignol Rôti et Poires Grillée - Crottin de Chavignol roasted and served with grilled pears.
The town of Sancerre.

Celebrating the Crottin de Chavignol

With such a famous cheese there is an annual fete to celebrate it, and that is the Fete du Crottin de Chavignol, the Chavignol cheese fair; it is held on the first Sunday in May.  Chavignol uses its position very well, and the festival is set in between the village of Chavignol and the town of Sancerre in the Caves de la Mignonne.  Even if you missed the Fete du Crottin de Chavignol the town of Sancerre and the villages roundabout have about twelve fêtes, over weekends between April and August many also offering tastes and places to purchase local cheeses including Crottin de Chavignol. The fairs are spread out over weekends between April and August and celebrate local wines and cheeses, snails and other produce. One fete that should not be missed celebrates Sancerre wines and oysters.

The Tourist Information Office of Sancerre has an English language website that covers the whole area of Sancerrois, and that includes all the villages and places of interest around the town of Sancerre including Chavignol.  Whatever you do not see clearly on their website just write to them and within three or four days you will have a reply. Their English language website is:

Most of the Chavignol cheese is produced near the village. However, for historical reasons, some of the cheese is made just over the border in the neighboring departments of Loiret and Nièvre in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.  (Burgundy - Franche-Comté is one of the new super regions that France created on 1-1-2016 when France reduced the number of mainland regions from 22 to 13. These new super regions are intended to cut red tape by halving the number of government employees).
Getting to Chavignol and Sancerre
Bourges, the capital of the ancient province of Berry, is now the capital of the department of Cher.  Bourges is a beautiful and fascinating city, and from there to Chavignol or Sancerre it is just 46km (29 miles), and that is less than one hour by car or bus from Bourges. Caveat emptor avoid the train which is indirect and takes over three hours from Bourges with changes.
The meaning of the word crottin.

The word crottin is part of the name of many small goats’ cheeses.  The rather unfortunate translation of this word into English is a little piece of animal dung! Nevertheless, do not worry; the small goats’ cheeses with crottin as part of their name are mostly excellent.  A few hundred years ago, when the local farmers were handing out the names for tiny cheeses, they did not have a public relations expert at hand.  They looked at the cheeses size and playfully associated the shapes with names that they knew. Who expected these cheeses to be sold around the world and become part of the cheese course in three star Michelin restaurants?
Wines from Sancerre.
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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
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