In the heart of Saint Nectaire
Imagine the area between the Cantal and the Puy de Dôme, full of green lands and chilly fresh air. Welcome to Stéphanie and her family’s home.
For the people of Auvergne and all the experts, the farm is in the heart of the quality certification AOP Saint Nectaire between Super Besse and Condat, in Egliseneuve-d’Entraigues.
How do you get there ?...Explaining it is impossible. We always get lost. If you have the possibility to go there, don’t give up ! It’s worth the journey.
So, after many bends, half turns, calls and waiting for the GPS signal (forget the in-car navigator!), we eventually end-up at Stéphanie’s. As with many of our farmers, the road ends right in front of the family farm, at just over 1100 meters above sea level.
We are greeted by a dog, a cat and a goose in front of a large farm surrounded by 2 farmhouses.
One for Stéphanie and her husband and the other for her parents, Robert and Marie-Claude. All that is missing is Vincent, her brother, who is the 4th member of the team.
A family farm that is fighting on
The farm has been in Stéphanie’s family for 3 generations. That’s why the expertise has been preserved and kept developing. Today they have 70 cows, 40 milk cows and a few calves. With 175 ha, the property has many wild-flower meadows with the famous Puy de Sancy in the background. What a fabulous view !
As you can imagine, the work is done as a family unit. Marie-Claude and Stéphanie greet us. After a little chat, it’s time to milk the cows. They call each cow by its name (yes, they can tell them all apart!) while they disinfect the udders. The cows are milked twice a day so the days are long with work starting between 6 and 7am and ending between 7 and 9pm.
In the small farm shop, they introduce us to the traditionally-made Saint Nectaire. The first thing we do is to taste it. . It was just a country cheese until the 17th century when the King of France tasted and enjoyed it. Yes, we tell you this story because as often beautiful things are created by opportunity and audacity. The Maréchal Henry de Sennecterre was that kind of audacious character. Here’s the man, and hence the cheese’s name !
Stéphanie has been helping her mum to milk the cows and to make the cheese (the work is often done by women) since her childhood. She’s passionate about it and she explains how to make Saint Nectaire.
First of all, the cows only graze the Cantal meadows (without GMO) in this labelled area. After milking the cows, while the men work in the fields or organise the cattle’s breeding, the women add rennet to curdle the milk. This stage takes one hour.
Let’s have a short break and listen to the story to understand the curdling process. In a few words, when people started to breed cattle, nomads, in that remote time, wanted to find a way to carry and keep the milk fresh between two places. While traveling, they put the milk in bags made out of animal stomachs (such as the calf’s). The rennet, an enzyme found there, curdled the milk. When they opened the bag, the milk was coagulated and turned into curds. The discovery of this milk transformation was an accident and became a well-kept secret for centuries.
All kidding aside, let’s talk about decurdling. The curd is cut into slices to obtain grains of various sizes (between the size of wheat seed and corn seed). These grains are then brewed to remove the liquid whey and they gather together to create an homogeneous mixture. It’s then time to shape and carefully transfer this mixture into a mould for the pre-pressing of the cheese. This stage lasts at least one hour and clears the cheese of all the whey. The cheese now gets its final shape. The Saint Nectaire is salted on both sides and marked. Each cheese is carefully wrapped in a wet linen, placed in its mould and pressed again for 10 hours. It’s the final stage of draining.
The cheese is removed from its mould and the linen and, it is kept in a cool place (8 to 10°C) for about a week.
Every farmer has their own specific way of working to mature their cheese and they learned it from their parents and grand-parents. You have to know that there are only a handful of farms that mature the Saint Nectaire themselves. Many others hand it on to master cheese ripeners. That’s why we chose to meet Stéphanie and to discover her family’s method. For 28 days, the cheese is carefully pampered. It’s one of the most important moments during which the cheese matures its flavours and its sweet rind. Saint Nectaire is washed with salted water twice during the first few weeks then turned over and scrubbed at least once a week.
Time to eat !
In Stéphanie’s business, the Saint Nectaire is ready to be tasted after maturing for at least 5 weeks and its flavour increases progressively. Leaning on the counter in the small farm store, Stéphanie takes her cheese and cuts a few slices. Never bored by Saint Nectaire, she smells it, touches it and tastes it as if for the first time. This picture is the proof of what we‘re always looking for: original flavours and the quality that feed their passion. We love the strong nutty flavour and creamy texture. It is a really good and creamy cheese with flavours that come from the cellar and the straw, and the flowers in the meadows (gentian). .
We could even enjoy these large meadows for a few more days. That would be a great holiday destination.
Egliseneuve d’Entraigues is a small village with less than 400 people. It is nested in the heart of the natural volcano park of Auvergne in the Puy-de-Dôme next to the Cantal region. The surroundings are full of great meadows, fir and chestnut forests. You can also find peat bogs near the old volcanos. What a great area for walking and hiking! The waterfalls in the Bois de Chaux and Entraigues and the surrounding lakes are full of trout, perfect for fishermen. In autumn, you will taste mushrooms like chanterelles or ceps in the local restaurants. We can’t leave without eating a nice, hot ‘potée’ from Auvergne, potato pâté, tripoux and cheese of course (St Nectaire, Bleu and Fourme) and for the last course, a Fougnarde (a fruit pudding). A gentian liquor will help you digest and send you on your way. That was the touristic description of the region.
We forgot to tell you that Stéphanie often organizes tasting sessions of her products at tea time. Don’t miss her wonderful brioches made with fresh Tome from Auvergne.