On Cantal Cheese
So a friend has bought me some Cantal cheese – it’s new to me, is it just for eating or can I cook with it? What does it pair with? Where does it come from?
Well, to answer the last question first – it’s the easiest – Cantal comes from the Cantal mountains…. which also give their name to the general region, the départment in central France where they rise heavenwards. Cantal cheese is one of France’s oldest cheeses, dating back to pre-Roman times, the time of the Gauls…Asterix and Obelix would have enjoyed Cantal probably (although they were based in Brittany they were well travelled, voyaging as far as Britain on one memorable occasion).
But it wasn’t just eaten by humble warriors: it was a favourite also of Louis XIV, France’s extravagant Sun king. And nowadays, blest with the award of an AOC (go here for more on that), it is enjoyed by many (one in four French people regularly indulge). The conditions for achieving the AOC demand that the cheese is made within the designated area, and produced from the milk of Salers cows, kept indoors over the winter and fed on hay (the cheese the same cows produce when grazing freely outside over the summer is Salers cheese).
At least Cantal laitier – the mass produced, pasteurised form of the cheese, is enjoyed by many.
There is also a non-pasteurised form of Cantal, Cantal fermier.
In terms of taste, it’s not dissimilar to Cheddar and, like Cheddar it becomes tangier and sharper as it ages. Cantal is categorised into three ages: the still-soft jeune (1 – 3 months, if you get the fermier version of this it tastes very sweet and milky); doré (2-6 months old, sometimes also known as entre-deux – the most widely available and what I was trying); and the hard vieux (6-18 months – a seriously mature cheese).
You can treat Cantal in just the same way as Cheddar – grate and add to gratins, or make cheese on toast. Add generously to a French onion soup.
It’s especially good with nuts (walnuts and hazelnuts, also cob nuts) and with apples.
Nibble as you sip a fruity red wine or a crisp, dry sherry.
For more posts on cheeses follow this link.
It could also have been a favourite of Asterix the Gaul….