With a huge range of different cheeses, Cantal has the largest number of Appellation d’Origine Protégée cheeses in Auvergne. With an emphasis on quality, it is inextricably bound to the terroir of Cantal.
And it comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavours. You can enjoy a version that is young and gentle on the tongue, with a thin crust and ivory-coloured centre. Or perhaps an entre-deux, with a little more age; golden in colour and with a more pronounced and quite full flavour. Or why not try an aged version, which, with more than a year’s cellar age, has a thick, black crust and develops a hint of spice on the palate and a piquancy resembling a vintage wine? With Cantal, it’s really a matter of each to his own, which is the core strength of this cheese, the origins of which are shrouded in the mists of time, and which, even mentioned by Pliny the Elder in the 1st century AD, calls itself the “most senior of France’s cheeses”.
Second in the hierarchy of France’s Appellation d’Origine Protégée cheeses in terms of quantity produced, totalling around 19,000 metric tons of cheese per year, Cantal is the undoubted star of Auvergne’s cheese board, with 90% of French people saying they know about it and one in four of them eating it at least once a year. In 2007, not wishing to rest on their laurels, those involved in its production embarked on a process of improving the product and the way it is perceived by those who eat it, with regard to its terroir, the feed given to the cattle from which it derives, production methods and maturing time. This is because what makes Cantal special is that it comes as both fermier (made from raw milk) as well as laitier (pasteurised), but its production follows the dictates of age-old know-how, now more than ever before reinforced by the new quality requirements.
You now need a minimum of 33 hours of work to obtain a 43 kg cheese from 400 litres of milk from the appellation area, with an ageing time of 30 to 60 days for a young Cantal, 90 to 210 days for an entre-deux and up to more than 240 days for an aged Cantal. It is during this ageing period, which often takes place in former railway tunnels, that Cantal assumes most of its particular features, broadens its range of flavours and acquires its extraordinary ability to suit all tastes. The best time to enjoy it is in autumn and winter with a glass of Loire red wine, when it exudes all the flavours of the pastures.