Cantal (pronounced Kahn-TAHL) is an aged French cheese with a natural rind, firm texture and a subtle yet complex flavor. It is one of the oldest French cheeses and is protected by an AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée), which specifies how and where cheese bearing the Cantal name can be made. It is sold at various stages of ripeness, with the flavor intensifying as the cheese matures.
- Milk source: cow
- Country of origin: France
- Texture: Solid
- Colour: light yellow
What is Cantal?
Cantal is estimated to be at least 2,000 years old. It is named after the department of Cantal, a region in south-central France known for its lush grasses growing on fertile volcanic soil and cultivated by more than 1,300 different farms. More than 60 species of plants have been found in the pastures there, and because the Cantal AOC dictates that cows whose milk is used to make this cheese must graze on fresh grass for at least four months a year, these complex flavors come out in the cheese Apparently finished cheese.
Cantal's subtle flavors become more complex as it ages, ranging from milky and buttery to zesty and peppery. The cheese has a natural earthy rind that can be white, gray or golden depending on the age of the cheese.
How cantal is made
Cantal is made using the centuries-old process required for the cheese's AOC. First, the milk is heated and treated with microbial cultures. When the correct pH is reached, rennet is added to coagulate the milk into a gel-like curd. The curds are cut into small pieces, which increases the surface area of the curds and helps expel the whey. The whey is drained, then the curds are pressed into a mass in the vat. The curd mass or tome rests for at least 10 hours. The quark is then stirred and salted in the vat, then poured into molds and pressed to expel excess whey. This process is repeated once more, a specific step for Cantal production.
The Cantal wheels then mature in a cheese cellar for at least a month, often even longer. The activity of cheese mites, tiny organisms that live on the cheese rind, is responsible for the pitted texture of long-aged Cantal wheels. The large wheels range from 14 to 17 inches in diameter and weigh between 77 and 99 pounds each when fully grown.
Another hard, pressed cheese from south-central France, Salers is similar to Cantal (in fact, Salers was originally a subspecies of Cantal, but its makers split the cheese with its own, more specific AOC designation). In recipes where the cheese is melted or mixed with other ingredients, firm, sharp cheddar can be substituted, as can British cheeses like Cheshire or Leicester.
Cantal cheese is divided into three types based on age. Cantal Jeune (“young” in French), 30 to 60 days old, is the youngest variety, with a smooth, softer texture and a fresh, milky taste. Next up is the Cantal Entre-Deux (“in between”), aged between three and seven months, known for its more intense aromas of fresh grass and nutty buttery flavors. Finally, Cantal Vieux (“aged”) is aged for at least eight months, during which time it develops strong peppery, spicy flavors, a dry, crumbly texture, and a thicker rind.
Cantal shines on a cheese platter with side dishes such as roasted hazelnuts, grapes or stone fruit such as peaches and apricots. The cheese goes well with wines such as Côtes d'Auvergne or Cabernet Sauvignon. It can be grated onto a green salad and tossed with a vinaigrette, melted into fondue, or mixed into potatoes in fries aligot. It can also be grated and used in recipes for baked dishes such as tarts, quiches and gratins.
Store Cantal in its original packaging in the coldest part of your fridge. Once opened, rewrap cantal in the original cheese paper (if available) or wrap tightly in parchment or wax paper and then pack the cheese in a plastic bag. Wrap the bag around the cheese, but don't seal it. This allows the cheese to breathe while retaining moisture and protecting the cheese from your refrigerator's drying environment. Cantal can be kept for up to three weeks.
If mold forms on the surface of the cheese, scrape it thoroughly with a knife. Freezing Cantal cheese is not recommended.
Can you eat the bark?
Cantal's natural rind is technically edible, although on longer-ripened varieties it may be too hard and tough to enjoy.