Cantal cheese is one of France’s oldest continually produced cheeses, with its origins in the area around the Cantal département of France (both cheese and département names are derived from the Cantal mountain range), dating back a stunning 2,000 years. In the first century, the ancient Roman historian and naturalist Pliny the Elder even references this cheese as being the “most appreciated in Rome.” The cheese thus has extremely deep connections in time to the area in which it is produced and to the people there who have perfected its production over millennia. Impressively, the methods of production for this cheese were mastered nearly 2,000 years ago and, while technology has changed over time and new breeds of dairy cow have been added to its production process, the basic manufacturing procedure has remained unchanged since the time of the Gauls.
Cantal is a firm, cow milk cheese that can be made using either raw or pasteurized milk, and that comes in three different varieties: Cantal jeune (young Cantal), Cantal entre-deux (“in between” Cantal) and Cantal vieux (old Cantal). The aging process ranges from a couple of months for Cantal jeune, which produces a soft, sweet cheese, to at least six months for Cantal vieux, which has a strong, tangy and buttery taste to it. Cantal entre-deux, as its name suggests, lies somewhere in between the two other varieties in terms of taste and aging.
The cheese must be made using strict standards that respect the thousands-year old traditions that have perfected its production. Farmers must provide at least one hectare per cow used in its production, each cow’s diet must be at least 70% grass, and they must be allowed to be at pasture for a minimum of 120 days out of the year, for example.
The cheese is always produced in cylinders, called fourmes. It can be enjoyed in a variety of formats, but is commonly used in salads, soups, fondue, potato dishes, gratins, and even pizzas.