Crottin de Chavignol
Goat herding has been a Sancerre tradition since the sixteenth century. The goat, sometimes termed the poor man’s cow, requires little food, provides milk and cheese for daily consumption and even brings additional income.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the phylloxera pandemic throughout European vineyards released land for goats to graze and contributed to the production of goats milk which spread throughout Champagne Berrichonne, le Pays Fort and le Val de Loire. By the 1900s, the first producers had appeared and thanks to the completion of the railway from Paris to Nevers, they could serve the markets of the capital.
The name "Crottin de Chavignol" however, is more difficult to date with any degree of certainty. In 1829, a Tax Inspector in Cher noted under "goats" that, "their milk is not suitable for butter but makes very good cheese : Cheese from Sancerre goats is known as Crottin des Chavignolles " . Crottin de Chavignol takes its name from the Berry term "crot", a small clay oil lamp that was used by growers to light their cellars and barns at milking time.
Chavignol is made from raw goat’s milk. Initially, the milk is very thin. Curdling is a slow process (lasting over 24 hours) and takes place at a temperature of 20 ° C. The milk is then pre-drained using a cloth ; the traditional drip process of AOC Chavignol. The quality of pre-curdling and draining gives the dough its character.
The curd is then drained into moulds through small holes called cheese strainers. The curd remains in a pan for 12 to 24 hours where it is turned frequently, giving it its round shape.
After being removed from the mould and salted, the cheeses are then dried and refined. The fresh cheese has a thin and airy crust.
A skilled cheese maker will allow the Crottin de Chavignol to mature to its full potential in a ten-day refining process. The degree to which Chavignol is refined determines its appearance, the texture of the dough and intensity of its flavour.
Chavignol posseses the flavour of its varied background. It is a more or less full-bodied cheese, although this varies depending on maturity. The crust is formed of a white or blue natural flora. The white or ivory paste is smooth and firm.
Depending on its age, Chavignol offers a wide range of flavours :
- Semi-dry, it’s a delicate tasting goats cheese with a slightly flowery taste.
- When more mature, it can be covered with blue Penicillium, which then provides a subtle hint of mushrooms.
- Dry, it tastes of Chavignol walnuts and hazelnuts.
- At its oldest, it’s preserved in earthenware jars, surprising with its strength and creamy texture.