For two millennia, Salers cheese has been produced by farmers in Auvergne. In 1970, it was awarded AOP (appellation d’origine protégée) status. This year, for the first time in its 2,000-year history, production has been halted.
France is suffering its worst drought on record and farmers who rely on lush green pastures to feed their cows have been left wringing their hands: the meadows have been dried to a crisp, leaving the cattle nothing to eat.
In the heart of the Cantal volcanic massif, the cheese, made exclusively on the farm, is named after the medieval village of Salers, from where it originates. It is made using 100% raw cow’s milk. The herds of cows whose milk is used to produce Salers are found in 137 villages in Cantal, plus a few in Puy-de-Dôme, Aveyron and Corrèze. It is made according to a strict tradition, which is set down in its AOP citation. From April 15 to November 15, cows graze in the meadows in the heart of the Cantal massif, which offers a diverse and rich flora for the cattle to feed on. The AOP dictates that cows must be fed on a minimum of 75% grass from these pastures if their milk is to be used in Salers. Once milking has taken place, the raw milk is transported in a gerle (wooden container) to the farm, where manufacturing begins. After that, the Salers is entrusted to the affineurs who are responsible for its ripening, which can last from three months to two years. Each Salers is unique in taste and intensity, according to fauna and flora of each individual meadow where the cows are grazed.
Farmer Laurent Roux, of Gaec de la Calsade in Badailhac, told France Bleu radio station he had not been able to graze his cows since June 25. He said: “There is nothing left to eat at home. The ground is so dry, hard, that in places it looks like ashes. It’s dust. We have always known periods of drought in the summer, but here it is hard, very hard. We didn’t have a snowflake or a drop of water in January.”
The decision to halt production of Salers was not taken lightly and it is hoped that rain will arrive in September and allow the pastures to recover.
Laurent Lours, head of the Salers AOP cheesemakers, told the radion station: “Salers is a seasonal cheese, made with the grass season. It is one of the pillars of its identity.”
The scorching summer has seen parts of France – notably Gironde – ravaged by wildfires and a milk shortage is expected this winter, with wine harvests and cereal crops also affected.
Salers AOP at a glance
1,200 tonnes of cheese per year
4,500 dairy cows
12,000,000 litres of milk per year
78 farmer producers