A Bit of History
Legend says that Fourme d'Ambert was already made at the time of the Druids and the Gauls.
The documented origin of Fourme (including both those from Ambert as well as Montbrisson) was noted in the early days of feudalism in the eighth or ninth century. Irrefutable evidence demonstrates that the Fourme was known and appreciated in the ninth century. At La Chaulme, we can still find 7 well-preserved carved stone sculptures depicting the agricultural bounty found at the front door of the feudal chapel. One of these unmistakably represents the ancient Fourmes produced.
17th to 19th Century
The term Jasserie did not exist at the time. They spoke of the 'Loges/Lodges' (Loire side) or Cabins/Cabanes (Auvergne side). The lands were called "Jats". Life of the shepherd was controlled by many things regulating them such as the use of water or the dates of breeding herds. At that time, the practice of moving to and working on the summer pasture was the responsibility of the male. The famous cheeses made during the period of summer pastures on Hautes Chaumes (High Pastures) was formerly called 'Fromages de Roche' named after the village where they were sold or bartered. Wholesalers collected the Fourmes in village centers and they then distributed Montbrison among regional merchants. These cheese are today known by two names; Fourme de Montbrison for the side of the Loire Forez mountains; Fourme d'Ambert Auvergne for the side near Ambert.
Late 19th Century
The conditions of life and work of the Haute Chaumes of the Forez mountains were difficult both in the natural environment conditions and in the day to day living of the shepherds and cheese makers.
Each Jasserie (the regional name for mountain pastures or Alpage) was the complement of a farm located lower in the valley. During the 5 months of summer pasture (Late May to Mid October), the entire herd was moved up onto the mountain meadows. This freed up the lower village farms to produce the hay needed for winter. A much needed hay during long, cold winters of this rugged region.
In this agro/pastoral mode of operation, tasks are distributed between men and women. The women (mothers and daughters) would move to the mountain pastures and make fourmes and butter. The men remained on the farm in the valley to take care of the fields.
20th Century, Modernization Begins
In the early twentieth century, milk collection is organized. In 1905, the first small Coop dairy was built in the valley village of Chalmazel and with horse and cart, they would pick up the milk of a few farms.
In 1928 and 1934, these were developed into more modern dairies.
Of utmost consideration though, is that this was a time of rural exodus to the larger cities where factories provided better jobs. Eventually, the herds were found only on the High Chaumes, and this was the end of producing Fourmes in Jasserie.
As for Dairy Fourme, a great boom began due to modern dairy operations.
In 1945, a first decree legalizes the first definition of the cheese to assure their continuance and uphold the quality. Modified in 1948 and again in1953 to define the method of production and ripening.
They allow three names Fourme de Montbrison , Fourme d'Ambert and Fourme de Pierre on High.
Since 1972, they have been designated as 'Fourme d'Ambert and Montbrison. "
On 22 February 2002, two new decrees granting an AOC for each fourme and they become full-fledged protected cheeses.