We recently spent a week in the Auvergne ski station of Super-Besse where the sun shone, the slopes glistened and a glass of vin chaud was a welcome pick-me-up after long and exilharating days on the mountain. I had done a little cheese research prior to visiting the area and whilst I already knew some of the local cheeses well, there were others that I was looking forward to trying in situ.
Bleu d’Auvergne, Fourme d’Ambert and the pasteurised version of St Nectaire are widely available in the UK but Cantal, Salers and the unpasteurised St Nectaire were new to me so on Day One I found the Fromagerie in the main street, and went in to check out the selection. I was not to be disappointed as the cheese counter was packed with each of these five cheeses to the detriment of some of the more commonly seen French varieties like Comté or Camembert. The inhabitants of the Auvergne are clearly very proud of their local cheeses.
Three days into our stay, whilst standing at the bottom of the bubble lift, I was interested to see an array of tents being put up advertising these five AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protegée) cheeses of the Auvergne region. By lunchtime a mini-festival was in full swing with tastings of all five cheeses and recipe demonstrations incorporating each one. I worked my way down the tasting table, savouring each cheese and finding out more about them which was made easy as there were several experts on hand to answer questions and a terrific selection of free information leaflets.
Of the five cheeses, my favourites were Cantal and Salers. Cantal, a cow’s milk cheese is released at three different stages of maturity. The young ‘Cantal Jeune’ is sweet, milky and mild and is matured for one to two months. The ‘Cantal Entre-Deux’, a stronger, cheddar-like cheese is our favourite and is sold when it has aged for three to seven months. Accompanied by a glass of white Burgundy or the local Côtes d’Auvergne white (both from Chardonnay), Cantal Entre-Deux makes a tasty, simple lunch with a hunk of crusty bread. The mature ‘Cantal Vieux’ is aged for eight months or more making it a very strong cheese which by this stage has a red and white-mold stained crust.
We also loved Salers which is similar to Cantal but can only be made from unpasteurised milk – Cantal can be made from raw or pasteurised milk. Another important difference is that Salers can only be made from the milk of cows that graze on mountain pastures in the summer, whereas Cantal producers can use the milk of any season. The sweet, nutty flavour of a Salers that has been matured for ten months or so is quite addictive and I shall be on the lookout for some here in the UK as the large slab we brought home has long since disappeared. A bottle of another Auvergne white wine, Saint Pourçain, is in the wine rack awaiting this discovery.