Production of Salars – a type of cows’ milk cheese from the central French département of Cantal – has been halted for an indefinite period, as France suffers its worst drought on record.
Across the country rivers have run dry and water restrictions have been imposed – and now the cheese-makers are affected too.
The Salars cheese is an AOP (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), meaning the rules for its production are carefully defined – to be authentic, the cows’ diet must be at least 75 percent grass from pastures within the Auvergne region.
But as the drought continues, the normally fertile volcanic earth in Auvergne has gone hard and dry, and the grass has died – for the 78 AOP cheese producers in the region, their cows have not been able to graze for weeks.
“There is nothing left to eat at my place,” said Laurent Roux, a farmer at Gaec de la Calsade in Cantal, to Francetvinfo.
“In some places, the ground looks like ashes. It’s dust,” he added. Roux’ cows have not been able to graze since June 25th.
While this is the first time a full production stop for Salers has occurred, it is not the first time the AOP has had to contend with challenging climate conditions.
Some farmers had to temporarily suspend production in 2017, and in 2019, the AOP requested a waiver to decrease cows’ share of grass in their diets to 50 percent rather than the usual 75 percent.
However, farmer and head of the AOP, Laurent Lours, said this option was not on the table this year. “It is not worth it because we do not even have 50 percent of the grass,” he told the local station of France 3.
He expects production to drop by at least 15 percent this year, as the cheese is only produced on farms between April 15th and November 15th.
For individual farmers, many will turn to Cantal cheese (rather than Salers), which has less restrictive regulations for its production. Doing so also means that they will earn less – a loss of €200 per 1,000 litres of milk.
As for consumers, they can expect a shortage in stores and increase in prices for Salers cheese.
The drought is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, with the possibility of impacting other cheeses and AOP products.
In Switzerland, producers of Gruyère cheese are also worried about a lower quantity of milk production and are considering bringing their cows down to the plains earlier than usual this season.
From the mussels in the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel (as a result of a lack of fresh water in the rivers) to the Espelette peppers being lost to high temperatures, drought will likely impact a range of France’s unique ingredients.