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Farmstead St Nectaire and Auriel Farm

Farmstead St Nectaire and Auriel Farm

On Tuesday of our second week of Academie Opus Caseus training, we visited Auriel farm. It’s neither uncommon nor difficult to visit farmstead producers in France. It’s a fun thing to do on vacation in the country, but this time for us it was business: we were there to observe production.

Nestled in the heart of the hilly and beautiful Auvergne, Auriel is a family farm run by a husband and wife who operate seven days a week, milking their herd of Prim’Holsteins twice a day for a yield of around 32 cheeses per batch. They only do St Nectaire, only from raw milk, and it’s all AOP. Apart from the farmer’s private stash, Mons buys the lot of it and finishes the aging process in its caves.

We arrived shortly after the production began. Rennet had already been added to the raw milk, causing it to coagulate. The curd at this stage had been cut in small pieces, about the size of a pea and was being a amassed into, for lack of a better term, a big curd ball. The whey was drained off. 

Little has changed in technique since the couple started 30 years ago, apart from some labor-saving machinery. Coagulation is now done in a state-of-the-art insulated stainless steel vat. The raw curds are molded in a “pre-press” six at a time. The rest is as it might have been a hundred years ago. 

Lined up.

Filling.

Curd is portioned. There's no scale present. After 30 years it's all done by feel. 

Molds are ready for pre-press.

The green oval sticker is made of casein, the key protein in milk that converts to cheese, and it put on each cheese. The shape in this case is important: oval indicates raw milk. If it were pasteurized, the ticket would be square. The farm has a limited number of tickets as St Nectaire production is restricted, and these are the only accepted indicators of AOP status. 

Pre-press of the curd into molds.

The curd is temporarily unmolded after prepress for salting. 

Six at a time

The curd is salted, then returned to its mold. 

The molds are now stacked for their formal pressing.

This batch of milk will produce 33 AOP St Nectaires.

Being in the make room during production allowed me, for the first time, to taste the fresh curds and whey. They didn’t taste like much: just milky and fresh. The tasting of the ripe cheeses was just amazing, as you might imagine. The following day I would pat down mucor, the cat-hair-like mold through which St Nectaire gains its flavor and texture, on cheese that had been made there. 

The farm's stash of St Nectaire.

St Nectaire, about 6 weeks. 

St Nectaire, about 8-9 weeks

Fromage

When Passion and Commitment Aren't Enough

When Passion and Commitment Aren't Enough

Affinage: The Art and Science of Aging Cheese

Affinage: The Art and Science of Aging Cheese