by Emily Monaco for USA TODAY 10Best

Salers: What this French cheese is and how it's made

Image courtesy of Pierre Soissons

Only a handful of France's hundreds of cheeses are protected by the AOP label, which dictates not only where and how a given cheese is to be produced, but even what breed of goat, cow, or sheep can provide the milk that goes into it.

Two of those AOP cheeses are Cantal and Salers. Both are nutty and mild in flavor, and are usually eaten at about nine months of age. But there is one important distinction between them that makes the latter even more sought-after.

Cantal and Salers both got their start in the rich, verdant pastures of the Cantal, where russet Salers cattle roam free. The distinction between the cheeses comes not from how or where they are manufactured, but rather when.

Traditionally, Salers was made with summer milk, while the cattle grazed out of doors. Cantal was made with winter milk, produced while the cattle were fed dry rations.

When each cheese got its own AOP protection, this tradition became law: Salers must be made with the milk of grass-fed cattle; the same rules do not apply to Cantal.

Salers must be made on the farm with raw, local milk. As a result of these stricter rules, there are only 100 farmers still making this cheese. But additional complications mean that quality can sometimes be compromised.

Salers cows are known for their richly flavored milk, but they're also known for being notoriously difficult to work with. Because of that, both Cantal and Salers can be made with milk from any breed of cow the producer chooses.

To combat this perceived breach in terroir, local producers created a third AOP so strict that only seven farmers in the world make the cheese at all. It's called Salers Tradition.

Image courtesy of Emily Monaco

Salers Tradition can only be made from April 15 to November 15, ensuring that the cows graze on local volcanic pasture. It must be made in a chestnut wood cuve, and it can only be made with the milk of local Salers cattle.

Image courtesy of Pierre Witt

For many cheesemakers, this is an essential return to tradition.

Image courtesy of ®Pierre_WITT

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