"Aubrac has a strong breeding tradition; clear cultural identity; recognised gastronomy; preserved landscapes; harsh geographical, geological and climatic conditions; and human know-how honed on a tough but generous land." André Valadier
The high Aubrac Plateau unfolds at an average elevation of 1,000 metres from forests to sweeping moors stretching as far as the eye can see. Summer visitors, who see flowering meadows, feel a burning sun and enjoy a natural paradise, would be hard put to picture the very harsh, cold, snowy and windy winter. Swept by westerly winds and covered with a blanket of snow in winter, the region is a land of contrasts that by turns undergoes the continental influences of Auvergne and the Mediterranean influences of the South, which bring heat and heavy downpours.
The Truyère borders Aubrac on the northwest, the Lot on the south and the Colagne on the east. The plateau plunges to the rivers abruptly or in a succession of boraldes, deep valleys rolling down the plateau to the Lot. During the Primary and Secondary Eras layers of sediment were deposited on a very old base (metamorphic rock and granite) reshuffled by folding and Hercynian movements followed by intense erosion. Then, many volcanic eruptions—the result of Alpine folding —rocked part of the plateau, especially ca. 7,000,000 BC. Erosion and a large ice cap finished shaping the landscape.
Before man reached this land, forests blanketed Aubrac. Human settlement, which only dates to the late Neolithic Period (ca. 3,000 BC), changed the balance of vegetation, leading to the coexistence today of big forests and immense pastures.
Rich in flora
Aubrac's variety of subsoils, elevation range, location, mountain climate, Mediterranean influences and human activity account for its rich flora: over 1,000 species in a relatively small area. The Aubrac Botanical Garden, founded around 30 years ago in the village of Aubrac, 1,300 metres above sea level, already has over 600 of them.
Besides grasses, a wide array of dicotyledonous plants grows in Aubrac's natural meadows. Some boast as many as 100 different species, compared to 10 or 20 in the plains. Plants high in terpenes—Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) such as baldmoney (Meum athamanticum), Geraniaceae (Geranium sylvaticum), composites (Achillea, Centaurea) and Labieae (Prunella grandiflora, Thymus)—are much more plentiful here than anywhere else.
They are what make the fodder so good and exceptionally fragrant. They impart a wonderful scent not only to the hay, but also the milk and, consequently, the Laguiole cheese from which it is made.
SHAPING THE TERROIR
It is hard to describe the alchemy between a region—with its specific geomorphological, climatic and botanical features—and the people who settle there: subtle interactions develop and become more refined over the course of time. Man keeps what works, what is good for the land, and discards what does not. Thus, the relationship between man and land matures as the centuries go by.
Harsh regions have a more delicate balance: each element is where it belongs and cannot be replaced without negative consequences. Shaping the terroir, then, requires painstaking care. The pastures' richness and production conditions have forged Laguiole's qualities as a cheese that ages well. Aubrac cows are also a product of the land, created by centuries of selective breeding in order to keep the qualities allowing them to live and adapt to the Aubrac Plateau's special living conditions.
This quest, this ceaseless adaptation, is what shapes the terroir. It is a craftsman-like process taking into account the close relationship necessary between the space–soil–climate complex, man, and the tools he uses to develop resources and generate the wealth of biodiversity, both domestic and wild—itself springing ultimately from the soil's mineral content, which determines the unique traits and types of plants and animals.
A TERROIR IS NOT CHANGELESS
That is how man on the Aubrac Plateau created his terroir, which has lasted and evolved with signature products such as Laguiole cheese, aligot and beef (Fleur d’Aubrac, fat Easter beef and farm-raised beef). Terroir is a word that may bring tradition to mind, but this does not mean the people living there have kept it exactly the way their ancestors had established it. On the contrary, a terroir incapable of evolving is dying. Keeping it alive does not mean keeping up centuries-old practices but continuously adapting. "Like a tradition, a living terroir must move forward in step with the times to keep from falling into emptiness and oblivion." Jean Cocteau