Salers Tradition is a specific type of Salers, which is an uncooked, pressed farmstead cheese produced in the mountainous volcanic region of Auvergne, central France.
Since 1961, the name and production process of Salers has been protected in France by an Appellation d’Origine Controllée, or AOC label. The Appellation requires that producers follow strict guidelines in making the cheese; milk must be unpasteurized, with a standardized fat and protein content, and transformed immediately after milking.
AOC guidelines do not, however, require that the milk come from any particular breed of cow. But according to the 10 or so producers who still use the local Salers breed, this is one of the most important aspects of producing the authentic cheese. As a result, the producers using only Salers breed milk have created the Salers Tradition label.
The breed, which is russet-colored and has distinctive curved horns, produces only a small quantity of high-quality milk. Salers cows are unique in their maternal instinct; they can’t be milked at all unless they’re stimulated by their young offspring. So the calf always needs to be next to the mom while she’s being milked. This makes milking more time-consuming for the farmer, but it also allows the mother to stay near her young, and the milk, according to producers, is perfect for making Salers.
The cheese can only be produced from April 15 to November 15, when cows are grazing on fresh grass. Milk is collected in a wooden container called a gerlo, which itself plays an important role in the production process, transferring microflora to the raw milk. During production the cheesemaker cuts the curd manually using a tool called the fréniale, removes the whey, and forms and presses the curd into a flat block called a tome. The tome is left to mature for several hours to encourage the development of lactic acid bacteria, after which it’s passed through a curd mill that breaks it into small pieces. Salt is added and mixed in, and the mixture is left for a few hours to rest. Finally, the tome is packed manually into Salers’ characteristic mold, a cylincrical shape with two bulges at the top and bottom, and pressed again.
Maturation, which can last anywhere from three months to two years, includes regular turning and brushing with cloth to encourage the development of a natural rind.
When ready for sale, Salers Tradition has a golden rind that sometimes shows traces of red and orange, and a yellow, consistent paste. The paste, which resembles cheddar in texture, can present a great range of flavors, with honey and fresh cream, vegetal notes of grass and hay, hazelnuts, citrus, pepper and grilled onions.
Pair it with a Cotes d’Auvergne, a California pinot noir, or a white Bordeaux.