World Cheese Encyclopaedia - Each Sunday learn all about a cheese in season.
This week Cantal from France
Country: France 🇫🇷
Made from: Cow’s milk
Pasteurised: both pasteurised and unpasteurised
Texture: semi-hard, to hard, crumbly, compact, firm and smooth
Taste: buttery, milky, nutty, strong, sweet, tangy
Aging: 1 to 6 months
Cantal cheese is a firm cheese produced in the Auvergne region of central France in the département of Cantal (named after the Cantal mountains) as well as in certain adjoining districts. This distinguished cheese is the grandfather of the cheeses from the Auvergne region. Auvergne is a region known for its extremely fertile pasture lands and Cantal cheese captures all the richness of these pastures. A well-ripened Cantal has a vigorous taste, whereas a young cheese has the sweetness of raw milk. Cantal is shaped like a cylinder. The form of the cheese is massive with a soft yellow interior. The pate is firm and homogeneous, with a thick smooth, dry, greyish/brown rind. It is made from cow's milk from the Salers breed. Its flavor, which is somewhat reminiscent of Cheddar, has a strong, tangy buttery taste and grows with age. Cantal cheese has a fat content of 45%.
There are three types of Cantal cheese, grouped according to age and texture. Cantal Jeune, a young cheese is aged from 30 to 60 days during which it develops a thin gray-ivory crust and a smooth, pale yellow, close-textured paste. It is fresh, sweet, milky in flavour with a light hint of hazelnut, and vanilla.
Cantal Entre-deux, an aged Cantal has the flavours of the green pastures and aromas of butter and cream. From 3 months of ripening, Cantal cheese starts to come into its own.
A well-aged Cantal Vieux has a thick crust and is a cheese lover’s delight. Due to the lengthy ripening period, the cheese becomes strongly flavoured and is a typical hard cheese with a firm, brittle and crumbly paste. The 8-month ageing period lets Cantal develop a peppery and spicy aroma. The pitted appearance of the crust of Cantal Vieux is a result of the activity of cheese mites. Cantal Vieux is a hard cheese, if kept properly, it can last up to a year and a half without spoiling. It is not produced in large quantities. Much loved in the region, Cantal Vieux is quite rarely exported due to its strong taste and can usually be found only in specialty stores.
The cheeses are also grouped as “fermier” and “laitier”. Fermier is the farmhouse cheese made of raw milk while laitier is the commercial, mass-produced version from pasteurised milk.
All three types of Cantal cheese have been granted Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée certification. Cantal, Auvergne in 1956, Cantal Jeune, Auvergne in 1980, and Cantal Entre-deux, Auvergne in 1986.
History tells us that 2000 years ago, due to hard winters in a region where the terrain made travelling difficult, farmers produced large cheeses so that there was always something to eat throughout the year. Cantal AOC is one of the oldest cheeses in France dating to the times of the Gaul’s rule. It came to prominence when Marshal Henri de La Ferté-Senneterre served it at the table of Louis XIV of France.
How to enjoy it
Cantal works well with nuts, grapes and apples and can be used in salads, soups, cheese fondue or gratins. It pairs nicely with a light and fruity red wine like: Chinon (Cabernet Franc grape) or a dry white wine such as Côtes-du-Duras (Sauvignon, Sémillon grapes)
Sources: cheese.com, Wikipedia, fromages.com, Vins Ziane Collection