Cantal is one of the most ancient of cheeses. Hailing from the Cantal Mountains region of the the French d’Auvergne, Cantal was mentioned in writing by Pliny the Elder in the 1st century AD, the time of the Gauls. It predates Roquefort among the noble cheeses of French history.
Generally just called Cantal, there are a few fine distinctions. For starters:
There is Cantal fermier and Cantal laitier; the prior is the “farmstead” variety made from raw milk, the latter is pasteurized and is the product of commercial mass production. Both are governed by strict rules of origin and recipe.
Then you have Cantal jeune, the youngest representation, aged just 1–2 months; then Cantal doré (or Cantal entre-deux), aged 2–6 months, and finally the most-aged of them all and today’s example, Cantal vieux, having beenaged more than half a year. As you might expect, the raw milk version is richer while the older is more strongly flavored still and more dry. I like them all but it’s the raw, dusty Cantal Fermier Vieux that really sends me over the top.
Cantal is always aggressively buttery in flavor, with the raw milk, aged version especially so. It’s sweet, very rich and buttery with a tang strongly reminiscent of the grassy mountain meadows in which the Salers cattle graze. Imagine an English farmhouse cheddar like Montgomery’s cross-bred with the best Comté. Like the latter, Cantal is a cooked-curd, pressed cheese. And given my love of alpine-style cheeses and of English cheddar, Cantal is always on my top list.
This is a excellent choice for fondue, mix with Comté, white wine… decadent.
Cantal Fermier Vieux pairs broadly with white wines, certainly with Frenchy’s like white bordeaux… I was eating it last night with an aromatic, acidic Umbrian Orvieto – quite nice. Fruity, floral reds including burg’s and pinots should be a go as well. Cantal likes sharing space on a board with marcona almonds and earthy charcuterie.
Cheese: Cantal Fermier Vieux
Where: Cantal region, France
Milk Type: cow, raw
Shape: massive drums up 14″x14″ weighing as much as 100lbs
Tasting notes: tangy dairy, grassy, assertively buttery