Saint-Nectaire is a French cheese made in the Auvergne region of central France. The cheese has been made in Auvergne since at least the 17th century. Its name comes from the Marshal of Sennecterre (a linguistic corruption of "Saint-Nectaire"), who served it at the table of Louis XIV. The Marshal of Sennecterre is also responsible for the introduction of Cantal and Salers.
Saint-Nectaire is a pressed, uncooked cheese made from cow's milk, mainly of Holstein and Montbéliarde and sometimes Salers. It is circular in shape, around 21 cm in diameter and 5 cm in height, and weighing around 1.7 kg. A smaller version called Petit Saint-Nectaire is also made, measuring 13 cm in diameter, and weighing around 600 g. Both are made from either pasteurized or unpasteurized milk.
It is the first "farmer" AOC cheese in France with 6.000 tons produced each year.
The finished cheese has a grey/brown rind, with white, yellow or red patches that surround a semi-hard pâte that is creamy in appearance with occasional residual holes. This dense cheese has a silky texture with soft acidity, and its taste is similar to that of Reblochon, with hints of hazelnut and mushrooms, due to the aromatic flora where the cheese ages.
After being heated to 32 °C, rennet is added to the milk and left for around an hour. The curd is milled to around the size of grains of rice and gathered into a single mass, known as the tomme.
The tomme is cut into small cubes and pressed into the circular mould by hand. After pressing, the cheese is salted and pressed for around 24 hours, turning around midway through. The mould is discarded and the cheese is dried over a period of three days.
The period of affinage lasts up to eight weeks, during which time they are twice washed in brine and aged on rye straw. The majority of Saint-Nectaires are transported to a professional affineur for the final six weeks of the affinage. The affinage is also cut short if it is decided that the flavour and scent are not developing sufficiently.
Around 15 litres of milk are required to make one cheese, and the final product is at least 45% fat as a percentage of dry matter.
Saint-Nectaire was awarded full Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) status in 1979.