It is considered that Livarot was created towards the end of the Middle Ages. It was, at the time, a farm cheese quite similar to Camembert or Pont-l’Evêque. All cheese from Lower Normandy were called “Angelots” (cherubs), then "Augelots”, in reference to the Pays d’Auge.
The name Livarot comes from a small town located near Lisieux, a town which housed one of the largest local markets where cheese was sold. In 1693, intendant Pomereu de la Brestesche wrote on the extraordinary fruitfulness of the grasslands of Pays d'Auge and mentioned that Livarot was regularly eaten in Paris.
The farmer's wives used the milk to make butter, and the remaining skimmed milk was used for cheese making, since cheese offered the opportunity to be able to be stored for up to four to six months. In order to avoid the low fat Livarot to go flat during refining, it was wrapped with willow strips, then with bullrush, a type of reed. Since it was full of protein it was eaten by farm workers, then by the workers of the blooming industries. Morière declared in the 19th century: "It is, in a way, the meat that the poor add to their piece of bread”.
Livarot was mainly sold unrefined on markets, or to refiners, who salted and refined the cheese. In 1877, there were about 200 refiners in the area of Livarot and Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives. The birth of railways explains the spectacular development of Norman cheese and especially Livarot, which was the cheese most produced in Normandy at the time.
In the 20th century, farmers' wives were replaced by craft industry, which offered a direct outlet for milk and could transform larger volumes of it.
In 1970, the Syndicat des Fabricants de Pont-l’Evêque et Livarot applied for the recognition of a Designation Origin, a seal of approval it obtained in 1975. The latest decree detailing the requirement specifications dates from September 18, 2007.
The milk used to make Livarot is exclusively produced in the designation area, and so is at least 80% of the forage fed to the dairy herd. Grassland is preserved with a ratio of at least two acres of meadows for each acre of corn silage fed to the dairy herd.
Grass is favored to feed the cows (with a minimum of 0.8 acres of grass per dairy cow) and grazing is mandatory for at least 6 months during the year. Concentrate feed - other than forage - is restricted to 4000 lb per cow and per year. Finally, particular attention is given to the quality of the feed, following a positive list of authorized feed.
In 2017, in order to provide enough time for farmers to adapt, all cows shall be of Normande breed.
The milk used is consistent with health and safety standards and originates from the last 4 milkings. It does not remain for more than 2 days in the cheese-making facility, located in the designation area. The milk is partially skimmed in order to obtain the required lipid level in the cheese. The milk is then allowed to rest and ageing can start: microorganisms essential to the transformation can develop.
The milk is heated and renneted in vats no larger than 300 liters in size. Animal rennet makes the milk coagulate into a compact curd.
That curd is then cut into cubes, 2 cm long on each side, then stirred during decoagulation. Whey (French "petit lait") can therefore drain and be partly removed. The curd is then molded in bottomless molds and turned over several times in order to help straining.
The day after the mold is removed, the unrefined Livarot, which the lactic acid fermentation makes quite acid, is salted. A phase of drying will remove excess humidity on the cheese surface, a process that will favor the development of yeast and mold on its surface (flora).
The Livarot is then taken to refining rooms and wrapped with 3 to 5 small strips of paper (0.5 cm wide). Natural sedges are dried in sheaves, slit and scalded several hours before being put by hand on the original size Livarot . They may be replaced by paper on other sizes.
Sedges, that gave Livarot its nickmane "Colonel" are reed leaves collected in August or September. The length of the leafs often enables to make 5 perimeters of the Livarot, reminding of the 5 stripes of this military rank.
The cheese is regularly washed and brushed, which allows the beautiful orange rind of Livarot to appear under the action of Brevibacterium linens and, sometimes, thanks to a natural coloring called annatto.
Refining continues after packing, so that the cheese can get its texture and taste. Livarot will be sent to retailers after 35 days and 21 days in the case of smaller sized Livarot.
It takes 5 liters of milk to produce a 500 grams Livarot and its refining can continue for up two months.
In 2013, 125 farmers delivered 11 million liters of milk to 4 cheese-making facilities, among which a farmer and they produced over 1000 metric tons of Livarot.
|Grand Livarot||20 cm (7.9 in)||> 1200 g (2.6 lb)|
|Livarot||12,5 cm (4.9 in)||500 g (1.1 lb)|
|Trois-quarts Livarot||11 cm (4.3 in)||350 g (0.75 lb)|
|Petit Livarot||> 8 cm (3.1 in)||200 g (0.45 lb)|
Livarot can be enjoyed all year long. It shall be picked mildly refined in order to accommodate all tastes or more refined for those who enjoy full flavors.
It is a flat cylinder with plane and parallel surfaces, a straight or slightly convex side and sharp edges. Its rind is wrinkled, orange colored, salmon pink, reddish or brown. It is gritty, slightly humid and sticky to the touch, and can be slightly blooming. Its yellow and regular paste, where it is refined, shows small holes called in French "ouvertures" (openings).
The cheese must be soft, which means it will return to its original shape after its rind has been slightly pressed with a finger. Its paste is elastic and creamy, neither sticky nor runny.
Its scent is strong thanks to complex volatile compounds.
Its taste is straightforward and powerful, as well as slightly salted. It is very aromatic, and floral, animal (hey, stable and leather), sulphurous (cabbage, garlic) and smoked (charcuterie – cooked pork meats) flavors can be detected in it.
It shall ideally be stored in a cellar, wrapped in a damp cloth or a sealed box. Take it out of the fridge and remove it from its packaging one hour before serving. Savor it with or without its rind.
Outside the traditional cheese tray on which it will bring a powerful touch, it can also be enjoyed as an afternoon snack with gingerbread and fruit, at the aperitif on grilled toast or in recipes where cooking will tone down its powerful taste and liberate its flavor…
It is generally advised to marry cheese and drinks from the same region: Livarot and PDO Cider or Calvados from the Pays d’Auge. For the adventurous, Livarot may be tried with PDO Martinique rum!
Unlike the traditional view that red wine shall be served with cheese, most of cheese is served best with white wine: Meursault and other Chardonnay, Bourgogne Aligoté, Sauternes, Chablis, Pinot gris from Alsace or Gewürztraminer late harvest wines.
Red wine fans will pick fruity reds: a Loire Valley wine such as Chinon, or a Côtes du Rhône, Bordeaux - Médoc, Pomerol, Saint-Émilion - or maybe a Bourgogne such as Gevrey-Chambertin.
Teetotallers will enjoy it with apple juice or pear juice from Normandy, or an aromatic type of coffee.