Made in the Auvergne region in southern-central France, Cantal Laguiole is one of France’s most traditional, large-format cheeses. Granted name-protected, AOC (now known as DOP) status in 1980, part of what makes this cheese so special is not only the cow’s milk that comes from the Laguiole and Salers breeds, but also the terrain - the plateau of Aubrac. The plateau sits at a high elevation and consists of a large grazing area characterized by rough pastureland that is never cut, the forage being preserved for the cows during the summer months. In the summer, the climate is hot and stormy with the onset of winter bringing bitingly cold winds and heavy snow. Cantal is made in Fermier (farmstead), Cooperative or Industriel versions. In addition to over 100 farmstead producers, there are also 35 co-optive producers of Cantal that are supplied by as many as 4,000 milk producers in the region. Farmstead versions are made at high altitude only during the summer months, whereas commercial plants make the cheese year round. In terms of style, Cantal is similar to its sister cheeses Salers and Laguiole, although there are slight differences in the production of each. For traditional farmstead production of Cantal, rennet is added and the milk is heated to 90ºF with coagulation taking place approximately one hour later. The curd is then cut and the whey removed before being wrapped in a cloth (it is still a large slab at this point, known as a tome) and pressed multiple times to expel more whey. After pressing, the tome is allowed to rest for eight hours at between 54-59ºF before being passed through a curd mill that breaks the curd into small pieces. Salt is added and mixed in and then it is left overnight before being transferred into cloth-lined molds for pressing. After unmolding, cheeses are moved to aging caves and matured for a minimum of 30 days but more usually between two to six months at a temperature of 50ºF and humidity of 90%. Finished cheeses have an aluminum plaque applied to the rind that denotes the departmental (regional) and laiterie (creamery) numbers, the day of its production and finally a code that denotes the size of the wheel: CA for the 35-40kg cheese, CP for the 20-22 kg Petit Cantal and CT for the 8-10 kg Cantalet. Cantal is sold at three ages: Young - up to 3 months, Regular - 3-6 months, Aged - over 6 months. The texture of Cantal is semi-firm, moist and slightly crumbly with a natural rind mottled with brown, grey and rust colored molds.
In terms of flavor, it is a straightforward cheese. However, while not possessing pronounced or assertive flavors, Cantal develops wonderfully complex and blended subtle notes of butter and milk, citrus, caramel and nuts with a very long and pleasant finish.
Good red wine pairings include Beaujolais Cru and a Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir or Merlot from California. For whites, try a White Bordeaux although Cantal works with a wide range of white table wines.