The Beaufort cheese: Introduction
The Beaufort cheese was, without a doubt, imported by the Romans who were the first to cite a certain cheese which came from the Alps. This cheese takes its name from the Valley of Beaufort, its birthplace. It is made in a chalet high in the mountains in transhumance (seasonal migration). The Beaufort cheese is in the shape of a cylindrical millstone, with a thick concave heel, a diameter of 60cm and a thickness of 12 to 14cm for a weight of between 40 and 60 kg. The maturing of the Beaufort cheese is carried out in the fresh, humid cheese cellar where it is washed periodically and brushed. It has been classified AOC since 1968.
Exterior appearance of the Beaufort cheese: Flat, even rind which is slightly rough
Odour of the Beaufort cheese: strong, developed smell
Texture of the Beaufort cheese: firm, buttery and supple
Taste of the Beaufort cheese: fruity, salty, with a flowery aroma.
The terms "été" and "chalet d'alpage" for defining the Beaufort cheese:
The term "été" ( summer) is applied to the "milk production from June to October, comprising of the milk produced from high mountain pasture, according to local and consistent usage of the term."
The term "chalet d'alpage" (chalet in high mountain pasture) is applied to the "summertime production of the milk according to traditional methods, twice a day, in a chalet in high mountain pasture with an altitude above 1500 meters, comprising of the milk produced from a single herd of cows from the chalet."
History of the Beaufort cheese
Like in all regions with a difficult terrain, it is cattle rearing which provides a solution for agricultural production. In the Alps, the agricultural production quickly became that of the production of milk transformed into cheese. From the Middle-Ages, it was the monks and the villagers who took it upon themselves to cultivate the mountain pastures in order to keep herds of dairy cows. They made a cheese called "vachelin." A century after the appearance of this name, its existence was threatened. This agricultural system and its production assured a relative degree of affluence for the population until the 1960s. But based on one important workforce and at a time when there was a massive rural exodus, production dropped by at least 500 tons. It is for this reason that some farmers thought about a new organisation. The Beaufort cheese should, due to its quality, justify an elevated price in order to withstand over expenditure of agriculture high in the mountains. The co-operation, in creating cheese-making ateliers who maintain the production, the maturing and the commercialisation of the Beaufort cheese, which is essential in its renaissance.
Fabrication of the Beaufort cheese
High altitude, hard climate, abrupt slopes... The agro-pastoral system today once again responds to the difficulty of the exploitation of the high valleys of the Savoyards. It gives rhythm to the agricultural life of the region and under this title is a part of its lively cultural heritage. The agro-pastoral system permitted the needs of the population when they had to face a long cold winter and it was rigorous in optimising the use of the vegetation depending on the altitude;
- In the Valley, the terrain is reserved for the culture of cereals; and it is the place where the small herds spend their winter;
- In the area called the "montagnette" the herds pasture in spring and autumn. The milk produced is transformed into tomme destined for consumpation by the families themselves. Also the hay is collected throughout winter.
- In the areas called "grands montagne" that is to say the "high altitude mountains" or the alpage, the cows are reassembled into large herds which can be as big as 200. The "montagnards" exploit the cows for 100 days from June to September, the land has an 1500 to 2500 meters .
- The milk is collected in individual bidons after each milking and the milk is regrouped from the morning to late in the evening. Whether it is alpage production or a co-operative atelier, the milk is put into copper vats when it is raw and without being skimmed. These essential phases, governed by the savoir-faire of the cheese-maker and the affineur are identical in all of the ateliers, and are as follows:
-Curdling of the Beaufort cheese
At 33°C, for the curdling, the cheese-maker adds rennet, according to the ancestral method (rennet of veal macerated when it is reheated) which also adds the lactic enzymes.
-Cutting the curds
With the help of the "tranche-caillé" (curds-cutter) the cheese-maker cuts the curds obtained as little grains, which means a large quantity of water can be drained off.
-Mixing and cooking of the Beaufort cheese
The grains are then heated to 53-54°C and mixed constantly. This step in the process called the "brassage sur le feu" (mixing over the fire) completely drains the water from the grains.
-Moulding and pressing of the Beaufort cheese
When it seems that the grain is "done", the cheese-maker takes it out of the pot and puts it in a linen cloth and a circle of wood which gives the cheese its characteristic concave heel.
This is then pressed for 20 hours, during which, it is also turned regularly.
-The brine washing of the Beaufort cheese
After 24 hours of being reposed, the cheese is plunged into a bath of brine which counts as its first salting.
-Maturing of the Beaufort cheese
The cheese is matured for at least 5 months and then it can be left to ripen further for more than 12 months at a temperature of less than 10°C and an elevated humidity.It is the caviste who takes over from the cheese-maker in looking after and tending to the cheese. He salts, scrapes and turns the cheeses twice a week, these conditions are indispensable for the development of the aromas of the Beaufort cheese