If you love cheese, youll love these

If you love cheese then you will undoubtedly be interested, and perhaps surprised, to learn that one of the major areas for quality cheese production in Europe can be found in the Auvergne region of France. Yes, no less than five cheeses have been granted AOC (Appelation d'Origine Controlee) status in the Auvergne, a figure un-matched by any other region of France.

The principal cheeses are: Bleu d'Auvergne, Cantal, St. Nectaire, Fourme d'Ambert and Salers.

Each of these five cheeses has gained PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) accreditation, guaranteeing products of the highest quality. PDO identifies products whose character is linked to a particular region and each product is regularly analysed to ensure that they continue to meet the required standards. Since 1992 PDO has been recognised at a European level.

Bleu d'Auvergne is probably one of the great blue cheeses of the world. Milder than the more famous Roquefort, it has been made since the mid 1900's in the traditional manner from cows milk. The blue veins were traditionally formed by the addition of mould from crushed rye bread. Today, the veins are created by the addition of penicillin Roquefort and later pierced with wire. The cheese is then placed at the entrance to one of the many caves found in the area for ripening. Today, production is limited to six dairies and only one farm, which manufacture over 6,000 tonnes per year. Great to eat in salads or by itself, good Bleu d'Auvergne has a firm but creamy texture and should spread easily onto bread or crackers. Other great dishes to use Bleu d'Auvergne include 'Blue Cheese Potatoes Au Gratin' and 'Pear and Blue Cheese Tart', best washed down with a sweet wine, montbazillac or sauternes for example, to counteract the somewhat salty aftertaste.

Cantal cheese is defined according to its age; Cantal jeune (young - ripened from 30 to 60 days), Cantal entre-deux (medium - ripened from 90 to 210 days) and Cantal vieux (mature - ripened for over 240 days). Younger Cantal has a mild, buttery flavour whilst more mature versions have been likened to cheddar, although Cantal has a softer texture. The cheese (and the region) gets its name from the highest peak in the region, the 'Plomb du Cantal' at over 6,000 ft. and has been produced for over 2000 years. Two types of Cantal are produced. The farm produced Cantal Fermier, is made from un-pasteurised milk. Commercially produced Cantal Laitier is made from pasteurised milk. Both types use milk from the Salers breed of cow. To produce the distinctive flavour of Cantal the cows are only provided with hay (for feed) in the summer months. It is a versatile cheese and can be used for example in omelettes, salads, soups, truffade (a traditional Auvergne dish made with sliced potatoes) and cheese fondues.

The production of St. Nectaire is limited to 70 towns located in the volcanic Monts Dore region. Farm produced St. Nectaire is labelled with an oval green sticker, and the dairy produced version by a square green sticker. The Salers breed of is again the cow of choice for both traditional and commercial dairy production, with the farmsteads using un-pasteurised milk as opposed to the commercial use of pasteurised milk. The farmhouse St. Nectaire is firmer than the mass produced version. One significant difference between farm and factory produced St. Nectaire is that the farms must use milk from a single herd of cows whereas the dairies are not restricted and are permitted to use milk from several different herds. This can have a great effect on the taste. The cow herds are grazed at over 3000 feet on volcanic mountain flora. Good St. Nectaire will have a nutty, fruity flavour and is best accompanied by a hearty Bordeaux to complement the tangy finish.

Fourme d'Ambert is a very mild blue cheese, less well known than Roquefort or Bleu d'Auvergne, but is nevertheless a fine all round cheese. According to legend this cheese was in production at the time of the Druids and the Gauls and its main market soon became the town of Ambert whose town hall is in the shape of a circle, like the cheese itself. Made from cows milk Fourme d'Ambert has a musty scent, but its flavour is mild and creamy. To appreciate the lighter flavour of this cheese it is best enjoyed simply with a crust of bread or as dessert course accompanied by a sweet wine such as Sauternes.

Salers completes the set of Auvergne AOC cheeses. Another product of the Cantal region, it is the only Auvergne cheese that is not factory produced (as well as farm produced). It is made using un-pasteurised milk from (as you would expect) the Salers breed during the summer pastures (15th April to 15th November). As such cheese production must take place twice a day as soon as the cows have been milked. It is another ancient cheese estimated to have been produced in this region for over 2000 years. It is a firm cheese with a fruity flavour said to be at its best after maturing for nine months.

Cheese heaven! If you want to experience the great Auvergne cheeses at first hand you can follow the cheese road - officially and more eloquently known as the 'Route des Fromages A.O.C. d'Auvergne'. Follow the brown 'Route des Fromages' signs to nearly 40 gourmet stops to learn about and enjoy all of the cheeses of this beautiful region.

Happy tasting!

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About The Author, Mary Smith
Mary Smith, originally from Yorkshire, took up residence in the Auvergne 4 years ago with her husband and two young children. She would love you to come and explore this beautiful region in the heart of France for yourself. Mary runs a holiday lettings agency, Auvergne France Homes, providing a great choice of comfortable, reasonably priced accommodation. Come and discover the Auvergne for yourselves=>http://www.afhomes.biz