A centuries-old cheese culture
Cheese is deeply rooted in Aubrac culture. The famous Aubrac breed, beef and dairy cattle with a wheat-colored coat, are part of the landscape.
“Lou Mazuc”, the first Bras restaurant opened by Michel’s mother Mémé Bras in Laguiole village, was named after a famous song celebrating buroniers, these men who produced Laguiole cheese in shepherd’s huts called burons, or masuc in Occitan language.
Cheese production in Aubrac region dates back to Antiquity. In the 12th century, monks founded the Dômerie monastery in Aubrac village, initiating cow herding along with making a hard type cheese that would later become the Laguiole. Named after the eponymous village, its complex flavor is popular among French gourmet. Early stage Laguiole cheese known as tome fraîche, is the main ingredient to prepare aligot, a tasty local dish made with potatoes. It also has a smooth elastic texture that stretches endlessly. Maison Bras has been serving this aligot as a side to the main course since the early days, as a tribute to Aubrac culture. (see our story “Aligot recipe: Maison Bras takes you to the heart of Aubrac”)
Sébastien Bras stretching aligot prepared with fresh Laguiole “tome” cheese
Winters are rough on the plateau with an altitude ranging from 800 meters to 1400 meters. Each year around May 25th, cows are brought for summer pasture called “estive”, and the event is celebrated as the Transhumance Festival or “Montada”, with cows bearing flags, flowers and cow bells. Cheese was traditionally made in burons, stone huts covered with scale-shaped slates and typical features of Aubrac landscape still today. Hundreds of burons were built over the centuries, with the production reaching a peak in the early 1900, before declining gradually after wars and industrialization.
Laguiole revival and the Buron de la Treille
In 1960, the Cooperative “Jeune Montagne” established a quality label in Laguiole, and in 1961, the Laguiole became an AOC. But today there is only one buron that produces Laguiole cheese according to the buronier tradition : Buron de la Treille.
In 2016, Ugo Diaz, a cheese producer working for Jeune Montagne, partnered up with a buron owner and cattle breeders to start Laguiole cheese production according to a centuries-old tradition.
Ugo Diaz, cheese producer and Buron de la Treille
“I wanted to start this seasonal buron production because it allows to make cheese according to the estive or summer pasture, that is the best season with the best flora that gives rich and flavorful milk to produce aromatic cheese. We only milk the cows from June to September because we want to produce cheese with milk made from fresh pastures. Keeping pastures quality is essential for cows to eat day and night. We go to them to milk them on spot, then we immediately bring the milk to the buron, pour it in a large wooden bucket called gerle while it’s still warm, and have it curdled at natural temperature. This also gives a very supple texture that is part of our cheese taste.
“Aubrac has a wide and diverse variety of flora, which is a big advantage. The wooden gerle was traditionally used in burons till stainless steel was invented, and it helps to preserve all the flavors intact. Just like the baker makes his own leaven, with the wooden bucket, we keep cultivating our own ferment by adding fresh milk daily. This also gives our cheese its unique character that cannot be found elsewhere. Our Laguiole cheese is entirely produced at the buron which makes it uniquely traditional.”
Laguiole cheese step by step
1 Curdling (Caillage) solidify milk with natural presure (a set of enzymes).
2 Uncurdling (Décaillage) cutting the curds in pieces, than separate the curds from lactoserum.
3 Draining (Egouttage): curds are transferred to the press, turned several times in linen cloth to drain the whey.
4 Let to ripen overnight. Curds become tome fraîche, or fresh tome, used for aligot. Pressed a second time.
5 Salting (Salage) : shred the curd mass to salt.
6 Molding: the curd mass is being shaped then pressed by applying weight, turned over and drained for 48 hrs. Mark with the Taurus seal, symbol of Laguiole AOC.
7 Aging (Affinage) in the cellar : maturation from 4 months up to 18 months in the cellar.
“It takes about 190 L of milk to produce a 25kg cheese. We have a small production of about 180 pieces a year, according to the capacity of our cellar.
We keep the same herd to secure stability in taste and quality of the cheese. Currently we have a larger proportion of Simmental breed in our herd but we are trying to increase the proportion of Aubrac breed to a third.”
Bras restaurant serves Laguiole in three stages of affinage (maturing)
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