Saint Nectaire Cheese Making Recipe
When aged in the cellar, an herbal, earthy and fresh mushroomy/cellar aroma will be present. When brought to room temperature and cut, the interior soon sags, revealing a creamy paste, but never runny. The flavor highlights richness from local milk and a deep clean flavor of earth, similar to fresh picked mushrooms, but with a wild edge.
- 3 Gallons of Milk (Not UltraPasteurized)
- 1 Packet C101 Mesophilic Culture or 1/8 tsp MA 4002
- 1/32 tsp GEO17 Geotrichum Candidum
- 1.75 ml Single Strength Liquid Rennet
- Cheese Salt
- 1/4 tsp Calcium Chloride (for pasteurized milk)
- Good Thermometer
- Mini Measuring Spoons
- Curd Knife
- Spoon or ladle
- Butter Muslin
- Large Tomme Cheese Mold
- Cheese Press or Weights
- Draining Mat
- Saint Nectaire Info
- Q & A
Of course it won't be a 'Saint Nectaire' if you make it outside of the designated regions of the Auvergne, but it will be a tribute to this great cheese if you try to take the process and attempt your own interpretation.
There are a lot of steps in this process, but really take no more time than other cheeses.
I suggest reading through the guidelines and familiarize yourself with the steps as well as how the cheese was traditionally made. You will be bringing some history into your cheese room and a real conversation piece when you present your final results.
Heat & Acidify Milk
Begin by heating the milk to 90F. You do this by placing the milk in a pot or sink of very warm water. If you do this in a pot on the stove make sure you heat the milk slowly and stir it well as it heats
I have provided 3 choices for Lactic cultures above. The C101 and MA011 are both quite similar as they just do lactose conversion to lactic acid. The MA4002 will produce a bit more complexity and would be closer to a traditional farm culture derived from the milk. These will both function in converting the sweet lactose and whey release.
If you are using raw milk the above culture choice can be reduced by 25-40% due to natural bacteria working in the milk.
Also an addition of the Geotrichum 17 will help develop a natural rind as the cheese ages
Once the milk is at 90F the culture can be added. To prevent the powder from caking and sinking in clumps sprinkle the powder over the surface of the milk and then allow about 2 minutes for the powder to re-hydrate before stirring it in.
The milk now needs to be kept at this target temperature until it is time to increase for cooking the curds. Hold the milk with culture quiet for the next 60 minutes to allow the culture to begin doing its work. It will be very slow initially but will soon kick into its more rapid rate of converting lactose to lactic acid.
Coagulate with Rennet
Then add about 1.75ml (slightly more than 1/4tsp) of single strength liquid rennet.
The milk now needs to sit quiet for 45minutes while the culture works and the rennet coagulates the curd. You should notice the milk beginning to thicken (flocculation point for the TEK oriented) but make sure you let it set for the time needed.
The thermal mass of this milk should keep it warm during this period. It is OK if the temp drops a few degrees during this time.
Once a firm curd has developed to hold a good break it is time to cut. cut the curd to as even a 1/4-3/8" size as possible taking about 5 minutes.
Then begin a very slow stir to firm up the newly cut edges over the next 15 minutes.
This process is known as the washed curd method.
When the stir is complete allow the curds to drop to the bottom and the remove about 1/3 of the vat content as whey.
Immediately begin adding back the same amount of clean warm water at 102F slowly over the next 10 minutes while slowly stirring. This will limit the food source (lactose) and the acid production slows. The curds should be at 95F at the end of this process.
For the next 30-40 minutes stir the curds slowly to allow the acid to develop and the whey to flow from the curds
Now it is time to begin drying out the curds. The total cooking time will be 30-40 minutes.
The final curds should be cooked well through and should be examined to make sure that enough moisture has been removed. A broken curd should be firm throughout and the curds should have a moderate resistance when pressed between the fingers.
When this point is reached the curds can be allowed to settle under the whey again
This is another unique process to this cheese it will press the curd body and limit the air and whey trapped inside, defining the texture of the finished cheese.
Note: Counting this one, there are three separate pressings for this cheese.
Once the curds have settled under the whey, begin removing the whey, leaving 1-2" of whey covering the curd mass. Then gather the curds into a consolidated mass on the bottom. You can do this with your hands but I find that using a large piece of our medium draining mat material helps to bring the cheese together (see photos).
Traditionally in the Auvergne they would do this with a specially made paddle
Once this is done place the plate or lid on top and press down firmly (this is the pre-press) to consolidate. A little hand pressure or a gallon of warm water set on top for 15-20 minutes should suffice.
Once the curd mass (commonly called the Tomme) is firmly consolidated then cut or break the mass into 2-3 pieces and let rest for a few minutes while you prepare the forms and drain cloth. This allows the new cuts to heal and the curd develop a bit more releasing more whey.
This step is a general consolidation of the curd mass.
The curd pieces are now transferred to the forms without the drain cloth, packed in and firmly pressed by hand.
The follower is then placed on top and a weight of 12-15lbs per cheese is added for about 1hr.
This step includes an early salting of the cheese mass to slow the bacteria cultures even more (again a sweeter cheese). This also encourages some more whey release. This is very unusual, the only case I have ever seen with the split pressing and salting in the press. It is somewhat like cheddar where the curds are totaly salted before press but this one salts the surface only mid pressing. A very interesting adaptation.
The cheese is then removed from the form and salted with about 1.5% of salt by final curd weight. This is a dry salt rub to all surfaces and then returned to the form lined with cloth this time. The follower is then placed on top and the form returned to the press. The cheese is then pressed for 12 hrs with 25 lbs per cheese. Then turned rewrapped and pressed again for another 12 hrs.
The form should show tears of whey weeping from the form very slowly. At each turn you will notice the cheese has formed a smoother surface and rests lower in the mold.
Note: the cloth is used in the form for this pressing because the salt will generate more whey release when complete the cheese should show a good consolidate with no gaps or holes on the surfacethe cloth is used in the form for this pressing because the salt will generate more whey release when complete the cheese should show a good consolidate with no gaps or holes on the surface.
Once the cheese has been pressed it should show a nice smooth and even consolidated surface with no openings. It should be taken from the mold and allowed to rest (the salting was already done in the mold) at 60-65F with 70-75% moisture for a few days. This will allow the surface mold (natural yeast and the Geotrichum you added to the milk)
Then the cheese needs to be moved to the aging space. Temperature should be at 52-56F and moisture kept high at 85-90%. In the Auvergne they lay the cheeses out on Rye straw but here I find a wooden board in my cave works just fine. Bamboo mats might be an alternative to allow air flow under as well but they will leave a very definite pattern.
This should be first held for 1 week while the ambient yeast and the Geo17 you added begin to develop.
At the end of the first week the cheese should be washed with a light brine(~6%) made with a cup of cool water and a tablespoon of cheese salt.
- The top and the sides should be washed then allowed to dry.
- Then the cheese is turned and the other side is done.
- Repeat this at 1 week intervals for the next 2 weeks.
- 3 applications in total.
- It is best to allow the surface to dry slightly before returning to the aging space each time.
You should expect to see the following evolution of the surface and cheese body, starting with the day it is removed from the press.:
- Day 1 | The cheese should appear moist but with no apparent surface growth.
- Day 5 | Should show a slight white growth on the surface
- Day 7 | Should show a growth of white hair like mold (mucor)
- Day 9 | Will show either a grey/brown or a blue/grey surface and the curd begins to soften slightly. If the moisture of the cheese body or aging space is high the surface will take on a more washed rind rosy appearance. Either is acceptable depending on the makers intent. I see the former condition more from the small farm producers and the later from the larger producers. They are often side by side in the display cases at the cheese shops.
- Day 25 | The surface should be well established and from great producers you may find the natural pink powdery patches of the mold t.roseum.
- Day 30 - 60 | The surface begins to dry more and the cheese body becomes softer and creamier. This gradually moves from the surface to the center of the cheese when totally ripe. The longer it is aged for the stronger the flavor and more character.
The cheese should develop a nice mottled mold surface with white to gray patches and eventually a felt of blue grey from the mucor. If the cheese have a higher moisture when the whey is removed they may take on a rosy to pinkish character similar to a wash rind. I do see examples of both in shops in the Auvergne but the farm cheeses seem to always have the grey while the larger cooperative cheese seem to have the more colorful rinds. This may be due to many cooperatives pasteurizing the cheese whereas the small farms do not. The cheese is normally ripe in about 6-8 weeks.
The cheese pictured below is one I bought from a farm where the maker went right into the cave and brought up a cheese right from the shelf. We had talked at length about aging so I am sure he brought me one of his best. It had a beautiful dampness about it and that good kind of mushroomy and damp earth smell.
The surface of his cheese was covered with a solid mass of blue/grey felt felt-like molds. The incandescent lights did not do the surface justice in the first pic though. The entire cheese was more like the side here. The last two pictures show the evolution of 'said' cheese over the next few days during our lunches. The picture on the right shows more of the texture and rind character than the other two though.
Saint Nectaire From the Auvergne of France
This month my cheese will not be just a great tasty cheese, but a cheese with a great story and a long history.
I have always believed that the food we eat, and its history and people that make it, cannot be forgotten. They can not be separated from each other.
Saint Nectaire Cheese is a "fromage à pâte pressée non cuite" or to us Anglos, an uncooked pressed cheese. But a much bigger story follows.
It has been produced since the 1600’s and was christened “Saint Nectaire” by King Louis XIV
Saint Nectaire is one of the three great cheeses coming from the Auvergne of South Central France. The 3 cheese are :
- Salar, a large cheese weighing 80-90lb with some process similarities to cheddar, but quite different.
- Blue d'Auvergne, a remarkable blue similar to Roquefort, but made with cows milk, and milder.
- Saint Nectaire, a low form tomme style that has been made for centuries on local farms in the region. I have already done a guideline on our website for the Blue d'Auvergne and I will be doing the Salars in the guidelines at some point.
For centuries, the cheese had been made on the farm in small productions, usually by the farmers wife and daughters. A true Artisan cheese, but that is just what they did in those days.
During the 1960s and 70s, Saint Nectaire began to show a troubled future as larger cooperatives began producing it, and gradually, pasteurization led to a lesser public favor as sales began to decline.
The good news is that the community realized the issue of losing this heritage product and, with help from the French government, made changes to help the small family producers successfully continue making the traditional raw milk and farm produced cheese, of which I saw many. The larger Cooperatives are still pasteurizing but at least consumers have a choice now. It was very heartening to see this and I am sure that Patrick Rance would have been pleased to see one of his favorite cheeses back in top form again.
This cheese would be a cheese for those that have some experience, but I encourage the rest to at least follow through the process I have written and the story behind the cheese.
Learn About Saint Nectaire Cheese
It was very interesting to find that this cheese process for making the Saint Nectaire came after some influence by the dutch cheese makers that visited the area a century or two ago.
You may definitely note some very Gouda like steps in reading, but there is a lot more to this cheese than that to differentiate the two. In fact, there is no comparison in the final cheese flavor and texture.
The cheese itself is a small, fla,t wheel shape of about 10-12 inches, and only about 1.5-2 inches in height. It has a semi-firm body that begins to slump out of its rind when brought to room temperature.
Its surface can vary considerably, from the russets and golds of a washed rind, to a velvety blue grey from a moist cellar. The diversity shows the variations of the farms on which they were produced.
This cheese has a lot of unique variations in process to limit the acid development and finish with a moist and sweeter flavor plus a very soft texture. It begins with a smaller culture addition than usual, plus a washed curd (1/3 whey removed and replaced with warm water) to remove some of the lactose heavy whey and slow the fermentation.
When they have ripened in the cellar, the cheese discloses a rather green herbal, earthy and fresh mushroomy/cellar aroma. When brought to room temperature and cut, the interior soon sags a bit showing a creamy paste (but never runny) just tempting you to try it. The flavor shows off the richness of the local milk and a deep clean flavor of earth and a slight cellar mustiness, much like that of fresh picked mushrooms but with a wild edge to it.
The cheese is produced in the Mountainous region of the Auvergne, also referred to as the Massif Central, a rugged land of Peaks and Plateaus comprising several dormant volcanic peaks. The Auvergne is one of my favorite places in Europe. It is a rugged region that primarily was all about agriculture, and mostly dairy and meat at that. Today, it is becoming known for its skiing, cycling, and walking as well. It is just a beautiful and quiet place.
In the Auvergne today, much of the cheese is still made on small farms , where villages are surrounded by the beautiful pastures. The herds are kept in barns right in the village but still have direct access to these high plateau pastures.
This rich volcanic ground feeds lush meadows where cows graze during the warm season and produce one of the finest milks. The herds are of 'Salers' breed of cows that feed on the rich, volcanic pastures of the mountainous Auvergne. The soil, wild grass and rich, raw milk all contribute to the cheese's complex taste.
My Interest in Saint Nectaire
My interest in this cheese began many years ago while reading the book "French Cheese" by Patrick Rance (Yes, not the first time I have mentioned this fabulous out of print book). Rance was a rather knowledgeable cheese monger (seller) with his prestigious shop outside of London, when he decided to retire and hand his shop over to his son. He moved to the south of France and spent the rest of his life visiting cheese makers throughout France and documenting the state of traditional cheese in France. He published this book in 1986 and it has become a snapshot of traditional cheese making. His book contained the important history of the Saint Nectaire cheese, but he ended with a rather grim forecast of its future, because he had noted a decline in quality in this cheese as it appeared in his shop. His visits showed larger cooperatives with lesser quality milks and using pasteurization, rather than the historical use of raw milk. The cheese began its slide from Glory
One of my goals in visiting the Auvergne was to see for myself what had transpired in the last 30 to 40 years since he wrote of this cheese.
I had managed to talk with Sister Noella Marcelina, AKA the 'Cheese Nun', who had done much of her research in the Saint Nectaire region about the Auvergne and the Saint Nectaire cheese before heading over there. Sister Noella also had been (and still is I think) very much a part of making Saint Nectaire at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut. She had done much of her doctoral work in France on the region, the cheese, and the Geotrichum molds that grew on the cheese from the aging cave surfaces.
What I found was a much brighter picture of the cheese and its future in France. I visited many small farms and saw a rather dynamic production that had not changed much since centuries past. The process was much the same as it had been in years past but only the equipment had been upgraded. I now saw it included hydraulic presses, modern milking machines, vats that had mechanical stirring and gas fired but the process in these small cheese rooms was very similar to what it had been decades and perhaps centuries ago. The dug caves near the farm were less used these days but some still were used.
What I saw and tasted was truly a good sign and I am sure Patrick Rance would have been encouraged to see this change for the better today.
I like this recipe and I've got a fairly complex, good flavored cheese out of it. I wasn't able to develop the felt as I would have liked to. I believe this is due to the aging space being a little colder than perfect, and I don't have the fauna built up in my aging boards yet. Definitely need to try this one again with some more established boards.