La Fourme d’Ambert, a true story!
Production of La Fourme d’Ambert in the Haut-Forez region undoubtedly dates back to the Middle Ages when an agro-pastoral system was kept – and preserved right up to the end of the Second World War.
Nevertheless, legend avows that at the time of the Gauls, the druids observing their cults in the Monts du Forez knew this cheese. According to M. MAZE, former Director of the Pasteur Institute, La Fourme d’Ambert was already in production during the Arvernes period, before the Roman conquest.
Since the VIII century, traditional narratives agree that La Fourme d’Ambert existed and was consumed. To this day, built heritage shows us that La Fourme d’Ambert was present. For example, carved in the shape of regional products of the time (sausages, ham, eggs, ‘fourmes’), the ‘pierres dîmales’, on the church of La Chaulme (Puy-de-Dôme), are a living testimony as to the existence of La Fourme d’Ambert. La Fourme d’Ambert was even used as currency when renting ‘jasseries’ during the XVIII century.
During this period, production is exclusively farm-based. From June to October, when cattle was put out to pasture, women and children would go to the ‘jasseries’ (mountain structures that were simultaneously stables, dairy and dwelling), while the men stayed in the valleys and tended to the hay.
At the beginning of the century, following a decline in farming in the Forez pastures, dairies were established in the Monts du Forez, particularly on the eastern slope. In 1950, there are around fifteen dairies collecting milk within a sometimes very narrow area.
Also at the beginning of the century, La Fourme d’Ambert producers first appear outside the Monts du Forez – first west of the Puy de Dôme (Laqueuille and Rochefort Montagne) then in the Cantal (Murat) and the valley of la Dore (Thiers – Puy de Dôme). Last of all, in the 1950s, producers set up in Saint-Flour (Cantal).
Since being awarded the AOC, La Fourme d’Ambert’s production has kept growing. In 1900, 200 tonnes were produced, but in the space of one century, this has increased 35-fold to 5,300 tonnes in 2012. More than 1,200 milk farmers, six dairies and four farms (that is, 300 direct employees) secure the continued existence of this exceptional cheese.