The Charolais has its origin in the Bresse-Plateau Region in the Jura Mountains of Eastern France. From the plateau of Bresse the breed spread to the fertile Charolles area.
Here the name Charolais came into use because The Charolais was confined to this area for many years and flourished in both numbers and performance. The breed achieved considerable regard as a producer of highly-rated meat in the markets at Lyon and Villefranche in the 16th and 17th centuries.
In 1773 Claude Matthieu moved his herd to Nievre and this herd is today looked upon as the fountain herd of the modern Charolais. During the 19th century the Charolais spread to central France and even as far west as Vendeé, where a local milk strain was developed.
With the creation of the first Charolais Herd Book in France in 1864 the breed became even more important, and in 1907 there were already 1,026,000 Charolais located across France. Today, with a strength of 3 million, the Charolais is the most important beef breed in France, and represents 80% of cattle found in the region.
It was only after the second world war that the Charolais breed made its appearance in other parts of the world. At first small exports, such as four bulls and six females to Brazil in 1950; five bulls and eleven females to Argentina in 1955; one bull and three cows to South Africa in 1955 followed by three bulls and 15 females in 1956, took place.
This small trickle developed into a big stream as the breed demonstrated adaptability and outstanding results in the new territories into which the Charolais breed had then been introduced. In 1964 for instance 259 bulls and 1,605 cows were exported from France all over the world and this trend is still increasing today as the Charolais breed is proving its worth on a global scale across more than 70 countries.
In April 1966, a mere 3 years after the first substantial imports of Charolais into South Africa, the Charolais Breeders' Association of South Africa was affiliated to the South African Stud Book and Livestock Improvement Association as a corporate body.