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|Country of origin||France|
|Region, town||Auvergne, Saint Nectaire|
|Source of milk||Cow|
|Pasteurised||Depends on variety|
|Texture||semi-soft washed rind|
|Aging time||8 weeks|
|Certification||French AOC 1955|
Up until 17th century, the Saint-nectaire cheese was farmstead, and mostly made by women. It was also called “rye cheese”, as it was matured on rye. It is its creamy and unctuous paste, as well as its taste of hazelnut that made it famous. It was introduced to the court of King Louis XIV, by the marshal of France Henri de La Ferté-Senneterre (1600-1681), and the cheese immediately gained the King’s favour. It already has developed a huge reputation, when Legrand d’Aussy writes in 1768, in the story about his trip in Auvergne, « If someone wants to treat you to a feast, there is always going to be some Saint- Nectaire » (lit. « Si l’on veut vous y régaler, c’est toujours du saint-nectaire que l’on vous annonce ». The Marshal of Senneterre is also responsible for the introduction of Cantal and Salers.
This cheese is a non-baked cheese with compressed paste, made from cow's milk, mainly of Holstein and Montbéliarde and sometimes Salers. It has a cylindrical shape, is about 20 to 24 cm (7.9 to 9.4 in) wide, and is about 3 to 5 cm (1.2 to 2.0 in) thick. It never weights more than 0.650 kg (1.43 lb). The “petit-Saint-nectaire” is 12 to 14 cm (4.7 to 5.5 in) wide, 3.5 to 4.5 cm (1.4 to 1.8 in) thick, and the weight doesn’t exceed 0.650 kg (1.43 lb). The cheese has a rind that is similar on both sides, with few moulds. Depending on how old the cheese is, the rind can be white, brown or grey, and with orange, yellow, or red patches. If a cheese has a uniform colour, it can’t be sold as a Saint-nectaire cheese. There is a minimum of 45 grams of fat per 100 grams of cheese once the cheese is desiccated. The whole refined cheese must have less than 50% of dry-matter content. Once cut, the Saint-nectaire has a soft, fluid and smelly paste, of a creamy colour. Its taste has a hint of hazelnut, due to the aromatic flora where the cheese ages.
The cheese is made in a grassy and volcanic area, in « Pays des monts-Dore ». There are a total of 72 villages in this area (of which 52 are in Puy-de-Dome, including the village of Saint-nectaire, and 20 in Cantal).
The Saint-nectaire is an Appellation (“Appellation d’origine”), which refers to a French cheese, made of cow milk, in the Monts-dore area, halfway between the Cantal and Puy-de-Dôme departments. An appellation is a quality label that can be given to traditional products, and serves as a guarantee of a certain quality of the product. The Appellation was first recognized at a national level and awarded Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) status in 1955."Histoire du fromage Saint Nectaire". http://www.stnectaire.com/histoire-du-fromage-saint-nectaire/.
At that time, the Saint-Nectaire cheese was only a farmstead cheese (meaning that the cheese maker would only use milk from their own production to produce the cheese). When the appellation was given, milk factories and the dairy industry were allowed to produce Saint-Nectaire cheese. Farmstead cheeses are marked with a small green casein oval slab, while a square one is put on industrial cheese, in order to be able to tell these two different products apart. In 1996, thanks to a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), the protection is extended to the whole European Union. A new appellation, “petit-saint-Nectaire” (lit. « tiny-Saint-Nectaire » or « small-saint-Nectaire ») is now included in the specifications, for cheese that weight 600 grams, in order to adapt to the market.
The farmstead Saint-nectaire cheese is always made of whole and unpasteurised milk, two times a day, right after each milking. Industrialized Saint-nectaire cheese can be made of mixed milks, or thermised or pasteurised milks. 13 to 14 L (3.4 to 3.7 US gal) of milk are necessary to the elaboration of a single cheese.
After each milking, and once the milk is pasteurised, rennet is added to the milk and renneted for a period of 30 to 40 minutes, whether it is an industrial or farmstead cheese. The curd obtained is then uncurdled with a “lyre” which is an instrument made of metal. The milk is uncurdled in order to obtain bits of renneted cheese about the size of wheat grains.
The next stage of the production is the picking up of the grains, which fall and are gathered to the tank bottom. Then, the operator removes the whey that makes up for 80% of the initial volume of milk. The milk serum or milk permeate is later given to the cows, spread in the fields. It can also be collected by some dairy industries that extract cream from it, turn it into powder to feed the calves, or use it in the elaboration of other food products, such as chocolate and pre-packaged-meals. Once drained, the bits of renneted milk are pressed for the first time into their mould thanks to a machine. The compressed cheese is called “tome”. The “tome” is then wrapped into linen, a little casein slab (oval or square) is put on top of it, and the cheese is salted (with some brine). Next, it is put into a press, for 12 to 24 hours. The next step is called “ressuyage” (lit. “re-wiping”), when the cheese is unwrapped, and stored in a cold room, at 10 °C (50 °F), with between 40% to 60% of hygrometry. Farmers and dairy producers can let the “tome” to mature, or sell then to people specialized in cheese maturing.
The affinage (maturing process) starts for a duration of a minimum of 28 days, according to the specification (reduced to 21 days for the “petit-Saint-nectaire”). In general, it takes five to six weeks to a farmstead cheese, but it can last up to two or three months, for a cheese to mature. In the meantime, the cheeses are washed several times with salted water, and are regularly turned over, to obtain the orange-grey rind, that is specific of the Saint-nectaire cheese.
The cheese are aged on rye straw. The majority of Saint-Nectaires are transported to a professional affineur for the final six weeks of the affinage. The affinage is also cut short if it is decided that the flavour and scent are not developing sufficiently.
The Saint-nectaire is the first farmstead Appellation in France, in term of volume. It represents 6,500 tons per year, and the number of farmstead producers amounts to 240 farmers. Moreover, the dairy industries and cheese factories produce 7000 tons. A total of 13,500 tons of cheese were produced in 2007.
The cheese can go along with any kind of meal. It can be used in tarts, pies, and buns.
“La Maison du Saint-nectaire”, or House of Saint-nectaire, is located in the village of Saint-Nectaire, on the road of Murol. It is a museum, which shows the history and the methods of production of Saint-nectaire.
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