Georges Rouzeau - 2008-10-20
An artisanally produced unpasteurised farmhouse cheese, Salers is a story of landscapes and men. Each wheel is unique and reflects the identity of the land and herd at its origin.
At the Col de Néronne, at the foot of the Puy Mary, the summer pastureland and hay meadows stretch out as far as the eye can see. A feeling of infinity – if we weren’t sinking up to our knees in soil.
The Col de Néronne is the realm of the herds of Salers cattle. From April to November, the cows live there on grazed grass alone: an absolutely essential condition for obtaining the Salers AOC guaranteed quality label.
On this volcanic land clover, gentian, anise, liquorice, narcissus, saxifrage, arnica, harebell, and Alpine fennel give the cows’ milk – and then the cheese made from it – incomparable aromas.
And this flavour even changes through the seasons: the spring grass is not like the autumn grass, soaked by the first snow showers that soon arrive at an altitude of over 1,200 m.
At the end of the track, Guy Chambon and his wife are beginning to milk their 62 animals amidst the tinkling of cowbells. In a small enclosure, the calves, each one more affectionate than the last, are called: “They are named after their mothers,” says Marie-Jo, Guy’s wife.
The Salers is a beautiful rustic cow of reddish-brown colour, with a slightly curly coat, big gentle eyes and a head adorned with a pair of lyre-shaped horns: easy to fall in love with. One mother refuses to be milked without her little one. So the calf begins to suckle to get the milk flowing. It is then attached to her left leg – Madame Chambon manages to achieve this after numerous efforts and plenty of swearing. When the milking is finished, the calf goes back under its mother to greedily drink the last drops.
Guy Chambon is one of the last few to do this Herculean task in the summer pastureland, seven days a week from April to November, come rain, wind or snow, working 10 hours a day or more. After milking and making the cheese with the day’s milk (another necessary requirement for the AOC), the man sleeps in his summer buron (the farmhouse where he still makes his cheese), not far from his animals.
Gilles Benech, for his part, owns a herd of Montbéliardes, which are more productive than the Salers. So, in his hamlet of Anglards-le-Pommier, he makes just farmhouse Salers (rather than a traditional Salers). Gilles sings the praises of the quality of this milk, with its floral aromas, which is never heated or cooled.
He also insists on the crucial role of the “gerle”, a vat made of chestnut into which the milk is put to curdle with the rennet. Gilles explains: “Wood, unlike stainless steel, itself preserves the native flora and means that you don’t have to add lactic ferments.” Salers cheese thus retains all its specific farmhouse characteristics: one wheel will never resemble another. The best Salers cheeses are ripened for up to 16 months, sometimes even up to two years, when they “crust” well.
People like Salers for the variety and range of its aromas, which combine plant (grass and hay), fruit (walnut, hazelnut and citrus fruit), milk (butter and cream), animal, spicy, peppery and even smoky flavours. So it’s the whole of Cantal that merges on the palate.
Salers or Cantal?
Subject to draconian specifications, producers of traditional farmhouse Salers – i.e. Salers cheese made using only milk from one single herd of Salers cows – are increasingly scarce. The cheese is made morning and evening after milking, using unpasteurised milk that is whole and unheated – another constraint that excludes dairies and any form of industrialisation. We can understand why this exceptional cheese disappeared in the mid 1960s. During the rest of the year, when the cows have returned to the cowshed, their milk is used to make Cantal.
Guy and Marie-Jo Chambon
Buron d'Algour - Col de Néronne
15140 Saint-Paul de Salers
Tel: + 33 (0)4 71 69 21 49
15310 Anglars-le-Pommier – Saint-Cernin
Tel: + 33 (0)4 71 47 67 72
Gilles Benech sells directly from the farm but also at Aurillac market on Saturday mornings.
Les Burons de Salers, maisons du fromage, de la vache et de la gentiane
Route du Puy-Mary
Tel: + 33 (0)4 71 40 70 71
When you leave this old buron (small cheese dairy) that the owner restored himself according to traditional methods, you will know all there is to know about Salers in particular and Cantal in general. Some very rare tools are on display in the museum section. A tasting session follows the screening of a short film.
36, rue de Sistrières
Tel: + 33 (0)4 71 63 85 00
Salers Tourist Office
Place Tyssandier d’Escous
Tel: + 33 (0)4 71 40 70 68
Official website of the Interprofession des fromages du Cantal
Association Tradition Salers
Parc naturel régional des volcans d’Auvergne
BP 46 15300 Murat
Tel: + 33 (0)4 71 20 22 10