The Sweet Nectar of St. Nectaire
While many cheeses out there have fruity essences, there aren’t many with a flavor profile that is particularly dominated by fruit flavors. Although the names are not related, St. Nectaire (meaning sweet nectar) has a similar smell to that of an extremely ripe nectarine. It has a fruity aroma, rich texture, and a sweetness of flavor that we haven’t discovered in any other cheese. You’re certain to enjoy this uniquely fruity delight!
For centuries, St. Nectaire has been produced in the region of Monts-Dore in northern Auvergne. The Monts-Dore is known as “montagres à vaches”, or “mountains for cows”, as they provide summer pasture for herds raised primarily for the milk and production of cheese. This reputation as a cow-grazing homestead has made its way into French consciousness because many cheeses come from this famed region in the geographical heart of France. In the winter the land is covered with deep snow and when summer arrives it brings very high temperatures. Although this may sound punishing, the weather is actually ideal for wine and cheese-making.
St. Nectaire is made from the milk of Salers (pronounced sal’air) cows, which have played a critical role in cheese-making for many hundreds of years. Salers cows were named after a village from the middle-ages, situated in the heart of the mountains. They are a visually intriguing reddish-brown color and possess angled, lyre-shaped horns. The flavor of their famed milk is a result of both genetics and the rich and perfumed volcanic pastures they enjoy from April to October. These volcanic meadows are rich with phosphorus, potassium and magnesium, all of which are found in high concentrations in the Salers’ milk, and all of which are integral to the final flavor of St. Nectaire.
St. Nectaire, like the Salers cows from which it comes, also has an interesting color. Its grayish-purple rind is covered with white, yellow and red mould spots, a result of the wild grasses that the Salers cows eat during summer and autumn. A whole cheese is only about eight inches in diameter and weighs about four lbs. If you are yearning for a creamy, milky cheese, St. Nectaire is just what you’ll want. It goes extremely well with fruits, raw vegetables, olives, bread and salami. For a fantastic combination, serve St. Nectaire on buttered bread along side a steaming bowl of soup; dip the bread and cheese in the soup and enjoy!
Take solace in the fact that the St. Nectaire you are enjoying is as authentic and genuine as a cheese can be. This is assured by the fact that it is an A.O.C. cheese. In Europe, traditional food is a serious business, one that governments are committed to protecting. France was the first country to initiate this type of regulation. On May 6, 1919 it passed the first law for the Protection of the Place of Origin (A.O.C. or Appellation d’Origine Controlee). This law specifically defines the place of origin for a product, including province, region and commune. Italy and Spain have since followed suit, and are the countries from which you will most commonly see these designations.
A full-tasting cheese, slightly acidic and spicy at the same time, its supple white dough melts in your mouth and unleashes its flavors with a touch of salt, walnuts, and spices. The texture is semi-soft with small eyes in the paste. The flavor is a wonderful combination of a summer pasture and sweet, fruity milk flavors, and it has an unmistakable smell of dark, damp cellar and rye straw, on which it is stored during the ripening process. St. Nectaire is an excellent choice for a cheese board, and makes an outstanding quiche.
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