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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cantal...My Love Affair with French Cheese


Let me count the ways I love thee, Cantal.  I remember my first bite of you in the early 1980’s at Le Ambassade restaurant in Paris.  You were in their regional specialty from the Auvergne district called aligot, a luscious blend of potato & cheese.  Let’s just say it was love at first bite.  I have since rendezvoused with you at several of France’s Michelin star restaurants…you were on their cheese carts.  Now I am in the village in which you are born…and I feel you close to my heart.

While the above love letter may be a little crazy, it’s true…I am crazy in love with  Cantal cheese, and to prove it, I’ve just driven several hours on hair-pin roads over mountains that were once volcanoes to get to this fairly remote part of central France.  I am in the Auvergne, in the town of Salers, the epicenter for the region’s famous cheese. 

I’m here to experience the birthing place of Cantal.  One of the oldest cheeses in France, Cantal is made from cow’s milk.  Even the cows are special…they are a special breed by the name of Salers, named after the town in which they were originally bred.  The cheese from their milk has a fat content of a whopping 45%, but because of its richness, a little goes a long way. 

In many ways, time has stood still in the land of Cantal (after driving here, I can understand why).  The village of Salers was awarded the prestigious honor as one of the “most beautiful villages of France.”  Now I understand why.   Many of its medieval streets are narrow cobble-stoned lanes...thankfully, too small for cars.  Vistas from the village are pure eye candy---bucolic picture-postcard views of green-carpeted mountains dotted as far as the eye can see with Salers cows against a crystal-clear blue sky (there's no pollution within hundreds of kilometers).

But, Cantal is not the only cheese for which the region is famous.  Auvergne produces the largest number of "PDO" cheeses ("Protected Designation of Origin") of any other area in France.  (In case you haven’t been to France, PDO guarantees character and high quality of cheese.)  Only 38 cheeses among the hundreds in France are granted this status, and 5 of these are from the Auvergne.

Like any lover, I’m not going to reveal the details of my affair today with Cantal.  Suffice to say, it was worth the harrowing drive and more.  And, I’ve now added another reason to the “I love thee” list.

2 comments:

  1. Great post. I really love your enthusiasm for french cheese. I to love a great cheese. PDO cheeses are out of this world and like you said it is a very high distinction of cheese. The best of the best. I have never tried Auvergne and am very interested in it. I'll have to give it a try.

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    1. Thanks, Jed. Just returning from Europe and for the first time was able to see your comment on my office's large computer screen (while I love tablets, they do have their liabilies.)

      Did you try some cantal? The blue from the Auvergne is also interesting (but I prefer the creaminess of Roquefort.)

      Bon appetit,
      June
      dunn@WineKnowsTravel.com

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