St. Nectaire: An Honest and Earthy Cheese

January 10, 2011

St. Nectaire is an honest cheese.  Its flavors and aroma feel like a direct expression of the earth.  Although St. Nectaire tastes like something fresh from the vegetable bin, my vegetable-averse son loved this cheese.

St. Nectaire is a semi-soft cheese from the Auvergne region of central France.  It has been produced since the 1600’s and was christened “Saint Nectaire” by King Louis XIV.  Today, the cheese is made by several producers, with some using pasteurized and some using raw cow’s milk (our sample was made with raw milk).  St. Nectaire has a natural, mold-ripened rind and is aged for 3-4 months before market.

st-nectaire-cheese-by-cheesechatter-january-2011

St. Nectaire is a rustic, tomme-style cheese.  The bumpy rind is covered with fuzzy grey, green and white surface molds.  Its blonde interior has small intermittant holes.  To the touch, St. Nectaire’s rind is rough and dry, while its interior paste is squishy and pliable.

St. Nectaire is an aromatic cheese:  it smells fresh, green and earthy.  We detected scents of minerals, grass, soil, mushrooms and green beans.

St. Nectaire’s flavors are sour, tangy, mildly bitter and sweet.  Initially, St. Nectaire has a sour milk flavor, but it becomes nutty.  It finishes with a green bean flavor that is both sweet and bitter.  St. Nectaire lingers in the mouth with a green vegetable after-taste.  The cheese has a smooth and pasty texture.  The natural rind is edible, but gritty; it adds a strong mushroom flavor to the cheese.

St. Nectaire’s strong earthy and grassy flavors are not likely to appeal to everyone.  Its vegetable-like bitterness may turn-off younger eaters, but our juvenile tasters both liked St. Nectaire.  This cheese keeps well out of refrigeration and would be great for a picnic or casual meal.

Purchase Notes:  We purchased St. Nectaire from Cowgirl Creamery (San Francisco).

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6 Responses to “St. Nectaire: An Honest and Earthy Cheese”

  1. Paul Says:

    This saint nectaire looks overripe, like the chimay. Here it is too dry. This correlates well with you bitter and sour adjectives. Though the rest definitely corresponds to my experience (earthy, mushroom, cellar-scent).

    Also, saint nectaire (PDO) is legally aged a minimum of 1 month, not 3, though I could not say what the average is. But this guy definitely looks old.

    Did you also buy the chimay from Cowgirl Creamery?

    • Paul Says:

      I saw you purchased the chimay at another place.


    • Thanks for your comment, Paul. Not sure if you are in the US, but raw milk cheeses must be aged for at least 60 days. What would you suggest is the optimal window to sample St. Nectaire? Also, can you please tell me what the “PDO” label designates? Thanks, Ann

  2. Paul Says:

    I am currently living in Waterloo, Belgium.

    I am a little shocked that you do not know PDO: Protected Denomination of Origin, in french AOP.

    You will probably enjoy knowing that all protected european cheeses have their legal specifications easily accessible in a neat website: google door database, or door pdo.

    I know the australian and US requirement of 60 days aging for raw-milk cheese, so I am curious how you can have raw-milk st. nectaire there. Legally they are aged 4 weeks, I do not see who would control they have at least 60 days.

    As to the optimal time to eat a saint nectaire you know there is no clear answer, it depends on the making (from milking to packaging) and then conservation.

    Perhaps as importantly it depends on your taste and what you want from the cheese.

    Jean d’Alos (http://jeandalos.com) talks of “perfect aging” but I find this not useful at all. If you like your sainte maure fresh then eat it fresh, if your like it dry let it dry, if you like it gooey have it ripen at high humidity.

    Of course “most people” will like cheese in a certain way, is it worth saying?

    The import here is your saint nectaire was bitter which you did not like. Bitterness comes with age, you should have had it a month or 2 before. Probably 5 to 8 weeks is nice for a saint nectaire matured in average conditions. Then you may keep it for ages if you keep it at 2ºC, 95% RH. I would say perhaps 6 months, but you’d have to aim for a record. If you warm a cheese you get happy bacteria working quickly.

    Another piece of data is that if you look at pictures of st nectaire, there are plenty on the web, you will see how dry/ripe your saint nectaire was.

    A final comment, from the color in your picture, relatively yellow, I think it quite possible you had a raw milk saint nectaire made with september milk. But I may very well be wrong of course.


  3. Thank for all the great info, Paul! Most appreciated. Thanks also for the reference to the EC site on PDO designation and the link to the Jean d’Alos site (must ignore the pictures of the cheese we cannot get here). I like the simple criteria outlined on aging.

  4. Paul Says:

    Jean d’Alos is great, his/its website and the pictures are really awesome. 🙂

    Actually I should have said that the information about aging on Jean d’Alos’ site is really useful in describing the evolution of sensory characteristics of various types of cheese.

    But regarding the decision of when and how to eat a cheese I find it useful to think that it depends on the conditions of the eating (person, time, meal, place, etc.), not on “perfect aging”.

    I think Malcolm Gladwell had an interesting talk about this, on TED, about Pepsi or Coca Cola or Heinz and the taste of spaghetti sauce, or soft drinks.

    My wife usually prefers young grainy/moist comté, should I reproach her because Jean d’Alos said this is not perfect aging?

    For some cheeses you have reviewed if you had bought them younger or older maybe the tasters’ preferences would have had been swapped.

    I think it is great to understand cheese, think of possible evolutions of its characteristics, and appreciate even enjoy compromise.

    That is why I am impressed with the work you have done here, you have been super fair/careful. So I guess I should not try to give advice. 🙂

    To compensate here is another link you may enjoy if you can decipher french:

    http://www.fao.org/docrep/004/X6551F/X6551F00.htm#TOC

    And this journal has articles up to 2008 freely available:

    http://www.dairy-journal.org/


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