Discovering the intricacies of a region through cheese
As I drove through the plains of central France towards the steep, narrow roads that usher through the Auvergne mountains, it was hard to contain my excitement. I was heading for the village of Saint-Nectaire, a medieval township split in two by a unique escarpment. The last time I visited I was only a child, but vivid memories of this medieval town, tucked into the mountainside, danced up as I journeyed across le Plan de Murol. While most travellers look forward to the region’s wondrous landscape of dormant volcanoes, I was drawn by another attraction entirely. Cheese.
The distinguished flavour and colouring that identifies it as a true cheese of the region are what initially saw me fall in love with Saint-Nectaire Fermier. Its semi-soft texture, nutty and mushroomy notes, as well as its potent smell, are often enough to convince connoisseurs that it is a great cheese. However, it is the way this cheese encapsulates the region it hails from that truly makes it exceptional.
Made from the raw milk of cows that feed off of rich volcanic pastures, this cheese is one of many examples of the beauty of agriculture in France. Distinguished by an AOC certification (Appellation d’Origines Contrôlées), it must be produced under a strict set of parameters which certify it as a cheese unique to its region. Thus, its geographical location, micro-climate, pastures, cows and production methods have all been recognized as a distinctive combination that create its unique, moreish taste.
Saint-Nectaire Fermier is far more than a simple cheese. It is a reflection of wild landscapes, medieval villages, volcanic rock, grassy pastures and fresh air of the Auvergne mountain range. Created using artisanal methods passed down from generation to generation, it is a cheese that captures the region and the history of Saint-Nectaire through taste. And that makes it a delicacy worth returning for.
Photo essay by: Sébastien Dubois-Didcock
First published in Lodestar Magazine - France Issue