Cantal cheese is a firm cheese from the Cantal region of France. It is named after the Cantal mountains in the Auvergne region.
One of the oldest cheeses in France, Cantal dates back to the times of the Gauls. It came to prominence when the Maréchal de Sennecterre served it at the table of Louis XIV of France. The Maréchal de Sennecterre is also responsible for the introduction of Saint-Nectaire and Salers.
There are two types of Cantal cheese. Cantal Fermier is a farmhouse cheese made of raw milk. Cantal Laitier is the commercial, mass-produced version from pasteurized milk; both have to adhere to the same strict quality controls. Cantal is shaped like a cylinder, and is one foot in diameter. Cantal is made from raw or pasteurized cow's milk of the Salers breed. For Cantal, the milk of cows that are fed on hay (during 15 November to 15 April) is used; the summer milk of the same cows grazing on mountain meadows makes the Salers cheese.
This semi-hard cheese is aged for several months. The form is massive, and the cheese has a soft interior. Its flavor, which is somewhat reminiscent of Cheddar, is a strong, tangy butter taste and grows with age. A well ripened Cantal has a vigorous taste, while a young cheese has the sweetness of raw milk. Its smell is of earth and pasture lands, and is reminiscent of the rich pasture land of the Auvergne region it originates from. According to the time of aging, three varieties are distinguished:
- Cantal jeune (aged 1-2 months)
- Cantal entre-deux or Cantal doré (aged 2-6 months)
- Cantal vieux (aged more than 6 months).
These are all available as fermier and laitier. Most (>80% of production) Cantal is of the first two varieties. Cantal vieux is already a hard cheese, if kept properly, it can last up to a year and a half without spoiling. It is not produced in large quantities. Much loved in the Cantal region, Cantal vieux is quite rarely exported due to its strong taste, and can usually be found only in specialist stores.
Cantal cheese has a fat content of 45%. It is used in soups, salads, cheese fondue and gratins. Cantal Fermier, as all cheese made from raw milk, may contain Listeria bacteria on the crust, which should therefore be discarded; it is also not suitable for children, the elderly, or immunocompromised persons.