It's a curious job indeed, as it involves making cheese better. "When people ask me what maturing involves, I say two things: care and time. It's a little and a lot at the same time, because we're the guarantors of a tradition. When I say 'we', I'm thinking of the thirty or so confrères across France." In his six tiny cellars, located in the basement of his Boulogne-sur-Mer boutique, the master stores some 270 types of cheese, compartmentalized according to texture. Pélardon des Cévennes, Puant macéré, Maroilles de garde, Blue Shropshire, Abbaye de Belloc and Gargantua affiné à la feuille de sauge all wait their turn on a charcoal bed to reduce odors. Some cheeses require special care, such as Langres, which needs weekly scrubbing with Marc à Champagne, water and coarse salt.
A scrupulous businessman, Philippe Olivier ships half his precious production abroad to Dubai, Japan and Europe. A slice of Brie de Maux, a quarter of Tomme de Savoie, a Chaource, a Papleux dumpling. These are generally small, high value-added consignments that end up under the bell in one of the eight hundred prestigious restaurants or hotels. "The affineur defends French good taste in the same way as the winemaker. Defend, that's the word. In Ces Fromages Qu'On Assassine, a recent documentary denouncing the abuses of the cheese industry, Philippe Olivier makes a few notable appearances. With his usual calm demeanor, the affineur demonstrates the coherence of his battle based on respect for the seasons and farmers. Just as he preaches the gustatory virtues of a farmhouse Pont L'évêque to a group of supermarket executives. "And they're right there with me..." he says.
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