The department of Cantal in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region is a rather secret place. A land of lakes and rivers, volcanoes, forests and mountains. There are peaceful villages, medieval towns and cities in this agricultural area. And it’s famous for its delicious cheese.
When Chris Atkinson moved from Wensleydale to Cantal after 30 years as a firefighter, he was surprised to discover the previous owners of his new house were fellow Yorkshire folk. Clearly it was destined to remain in Yorkshire hands.
He fell in love with the mountains, lakes and waterfalls along with endless forests, all in the National Park of Volcanoes. ‘What a bonus to find we were in the centre of the Route Des Fromages of Cantal, with no starting or finishing point. The distinctive brown signs lead you on a journey of discovery,’ he says. ‘The route directs you to the farm producers and larger cheese makers, as well as smaller independent shops. The cheeses, like the landscape, change with the altitude and time of year, flavoured by a variety of flora and grasses that the cattle graze on in the meadows.’
We asked Chris, an agent with Leggett Immobillier, to tell us about the cheese and about some of the best places to live in Cantal…
Cheese of Cantal
Traditionally made in the mountains for over 2000 years, the farmers would start the process in Burons at an altitude of over 1000 metres. These rustic mountain chalets are scattered all over landscape and with cheeses maturing in the cellars. They were the summer homes for the farmers when their cattle were moved from the lower lands to the cooler mountains. The terroir (soil, weather etc) enhances the flavours of the cheese.
Maturity times vary from the Cantal cheese. Cantal Jeune matures in 1-2 months. It has a lovely creamy taste, with notes of hazelnut and a pale colour. Meanwhile, Cantal Entre-Deux is matured for 3-7 months; it’s double-pressed and has a flavour of butter and citrus with a more golden colour. The Cantal Vieux, the strongest flavour due to the longer maturing time of over 8 months, is visibly different. It has a deep brown colour of the rind and is crumblier, with a spicy taste.
Cantal cheese route – great cheeses & gorgeous villages
The Medieval fortified village of Salers is nestled next to the famous Puy-Mary Vocano, a popular tourist destination. The strong flavoured semi-hard cheese is made in the Volcanic Parc village of the same name. The local flora and magnesium-rich soils in the meadows where the cattle graze, adds a real depth to the cheese. Salers Traditional cheese is only made in burons in the summer months. The milk from the Salers cows is put directly into a wooden vat, known as a gerle, which preserves the natural floral essence of the milk. The cheese is made only between April and November. It’s then matured in caves for a minimum of 3 months and a maximum of 4-5 months.
Saint Nectaire cheese became a favourite of King Louis XIV after it was introduced to the court by Marshall Henri de La Ferte-Senneterre. It’s a semi-soft cheese made in the village of the same name in the Auvergne region of France. The cheese is named after Saint-Nectaire and Jean Charles de la Ferte and has been made in the Auvergne since the 17th century under this name. Before that, it was made by women on their farms and was called rye cheese as it was matured by rye. This cheese is aged for 8 weeks and has a creamy, hazelnut taste.
Bleu d’Auvergne is an AOC soft blue cheese made from cow’s milk. It originally had an ageing time of 8 weeks and was first introduced in the 1850s. However, technology has moved on and machinery has increased the production process. The ageing time has been reduced to 4 weeks.
Bleu d’Auvergne had a strong pungent taste though it’s not the strongest of the blue cheeses. It contains less salt than most of the Auvergne cheeses which enhances the creamy, buttery flavour and moist texture. The Auvergne region is very proud of its cheeses and in Riom es Montagnes, a blue cheese festival is held every August to celebrate the local produce.
Fourme d’Ambert is a semi-hard blue cheese. It’s one of the oldest cheeses in France, dating back to Roman times. It’s made from raw cows milk and has an aging time of 1-4 months.
Produced in the Puy-de-Dome in the Auvergne, this cheese originates from the town of Ambert. A sculpture of the cheese can be found at the entrance to a medieval chapel in La Chaulme, Puy-de-Dome. The French are, justifiably, very proud of their fromage heritage.
Where to live in Cantal
There’s a huge choice for property seekers from small villages to large towns like beautiful Saint-Flour. The slow life is normal here. People take time to enjoy the surroundings and be in touch with the natural beauty all around them. There are festivals galore and plenty of year-round events.
Condat is a picturesque village and an ideal base for keen mountaineers, hikers or people who just love to ramble through breathtaking countryside. It’s situated in the middle of the Parc d’Volcanoes. There are views of Puy Mary to one side and Super Besse to the other. It’s a highly sought after location for both permanent homes and holiday makers as it offers such beautiful scenery and clean air.
The river Grand Rhue runs through the centre of the village. There are parks, a beautiful lake used by the local fisherman and an outdoor swimming pool.
Further towards Puy Mary, you will find the village of Dienne at the foot of the mountain with small cafés and restaurants. From the summit of the mountain there are spectacular views of the Massif Central mountain range. You can park your car at the café near the top and continue to the peak on foot. For the more adventurous climbers, you can make the trek up the mountain from the bottom which peaks at 1,783m.
Bort les Orgues
In the neighbouring Correze region, the town of Bort Les Orgues is dominated by the Chateau Du Val. There are manmade lakes with speed boats, jet skis and water skiing and more water sports on offer. The town is famous for its production of leather, including women’s handbags, belts and luggage. It’s a great place to eat out too and there are loads of pretty surrounding villages to explore, such as Champs sur Terrantaine.
Menet is a quaint village on the outskirts of Riom es Montagnes. This village boasts one of the most beautiful of the smaller lakes in the area. A vacation village sits at one side of the lake, which also has a snack bar and café. Dog walkers will find this a little piece of paradise. There are a couple of bars in the village, a boulangerie, beautiful church and an amazing restaurant. Dogs are also welcome there!
See Chris’s portfolio of properties in Cantal and Puy-de-Dome: Frenchestateagents.com