The Fourme de Montbrison cheese: Introduction
The Fourme de Montbrison cheese is a blue veined cow’s milk cheese which originates from Montbrison, the administrative district of the Department of the Loire in the region of the Rhône-Alps but this district has a with a similar culture to that of Auvergne.
The Fourme de Montbrison cheese evokes, unlike any other cheese, the reliefs, the fragrance of the heather and the gentians, the seasons and the savoir-faire of the people of Forez. Thanks to its fine taste and its versatility when used for cooking, this cheese forms the basis of many recipes, from the most simple to the more elaborate.
The Fourme de Montbrison cheese is in the shape of a cylinder where the diameter is 14cm the height is 20cm and it weighs between 2.1 and 2.7 grams. It is matured for 1 to 3 months.
History of the Fourme de Montbrison cheese
The word ‘Fourme’ comes originally from the Greek ‘formos’ which in latin is ‘forma’ (which was the container where the milk was curdled). From this root, the old French word ‘fourmage’ and ‘formage’ were born, which then became ‘fromage.’ The Fourme is one of the oldest blue-veined cheeses. It is thought that the Arvernes, the Celtic people of Auvergne, were making the cheese before Cesar conquered the area. This is not historically proven, but it is proven that the Fourme originated in the first centuries of feudalism, between the 8th and 9th centuries. The evidence for this comes from the 9th Century, which proves that the Fourme cheese was known and appreciated. At Chaulme, seven well-preserved, tithe stones dominate the entrance of the feudal chapel. Immediately, the eye recognises the butter, the sausages, the ham, the eggs, the hay, the cereals and, most importantly, the Fourme.
The term ‘jasserie’ did not exist at the time. They were lodges (according to the people of the Loire) or cabins (according to the people of Auvergene). The terrain was called the ‘jats.’ The life on the summer mountain pasture was filled with many marks of sociability and many acts regulating the use of water when the herds ascended the slopes. At this time, it was the men who worked the summer mountain posture. It was made on the summer mountain pasture of Hautes Chaumes called formerly called the ‘cheese of Roche’ after the name of the village where it was sold or traded. The wholesalers gathered the Fourmes and then transported them to the markets of Montbrison. These cheeses are today known under two names; Fourme de Montbrison for those from the Loire side of the mountains of Forez, and Fourme d’Ambert for those from the Auvergne side.
The living and labour conditions on the Hautes Chaumes of the Mountains of Forez were difficult, in relation to both the natural environment and the domestic environment. Each jasserie is the economic counterpart of a farm situated in the villages at the foot of the mountains. During the 5 months of the summer pasture, when all the cattle are on the mountains, the fields in the villages are empty meaning that more hay can be gathered. The Hay is necessary during the long, cold winters in this high altitude region. In this agro-pastoral exploitation, the tasks were shared between the men and the women. The women (the mother and daughters) lead the cattle up the mountain and fabricated butter and the Fourme cheese. They stayed on the mountain pasture. The men stayed at the farm at the foot of the mountains and worked the fields.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, the collection of the milk was reorganised. Mr Viallon created a dairy at Chalmazel in 1905. With his daughter nicknamed and a horse and cart, he collected the milk from several farms. In 1928 and then later in 1934, the businesses Tarit and Dauphin Joandel were created. But the oldest dairy business, Battion, was created in 1893. From the beginning of 1950s, there was a huge development. The rural exodus began. Little by little the heifer found itself alone on the Hautes Chaumes, signalling the end of the fabrication of the farm produced Fourme in the jasseries. As for the dairy produced Fourme, it saw a rapid development thanks to the introduction of collection tanks.
From 1945, due to the Society for the Improvement of Dairy Products of Pierre sur Haute, the first decree was made which defined, for the first time, the Fourme cheese. Modified in 1948 and then in 1953, the decree defined the method of fabrication and maturing. Three denominations were defined ; Fourme de Montbrison, Fourme d’Ambert and Fourme de Pierre sur Haute. Today, in Europe, the Fourme de Montbrison cheese is protected by an Appellation d’Origine Protégée (A.O.P), meaning a ‘designation of protected origin.’
Fabrication of the Fourme de Montbrison cheese
Each Fourme cheese needs between 20 and 25 litres of milk from cows fed on the grass of the Haut Forez region. Today, the cheese is fabricated using tools, and it takes place in several steps: time in the vats, the forming, the draining, the salting, the pricking and the maturing. The blue of the cheese, with its unique taste, comes from the salting which is done whilst the cheeses are being formed. The wonderful orange rind develops whilst the cheese is sat in channels made of spruce. Left here for 8 days, the cheeses are turned a quarter of a turn by the master cheese-makers every 12 hours. Then, the Fourmes are placed into a cheese cellar for several weeks. The affineurs prick the cheeses with long needles to encourage the blue mould to develop.