Set man

Set man

A native of Normandy, Philippe Olivier arrived in our region 35 years ago. A renowned affineur, the Boulonnais defends the raw-milk cheese tradition with the conviction of a Greek orator. This is the country where people eat the most cheese in the world.
Chevalier de la confrérie des trois ceps, chevalier de la commanderie des fromages de Sainte-Maure de Touraine, Officier de l'ordre mondial de la fine gueule, chevalier de la confrérie du trou normand. For the past thirty-five years, Philippe Olivier has been accumulating mouth-watering honors in the same way as others collect key rings. Sometimes, the distinction is surprising, like that of ambassador of the culinary academy of coquilles Saint-jaques, which, all in all, is rather far removed from his profession. But, as he proclaims, "it's in the cellar that you recognize a ripener, not in his record of achievements". So let's go beyond diplomas. Let's break the crust of the most famous of our affineurs, fresh from Dieppe one fine morning in 1974. A moderate man. A fine Norman diplomat who has always preferred polite language to hurtful words, "despite the monopoly of the dairy industry, which accounts for 75% of production. But times are changing. Consumers are hungry for authenticity. The era of tasteless, unethical cheeses is behind us. I'm fighting for future generations to be able to buy a farmhouse Saint-Nectaire."

Cheese master

President of the French Cheese Makers' Union, Philippe Olivier is in the habit of associating the history of cheeses with those who eat them. "It's a question of common sense. Camembert developed thanks to the Grandville-Paris railroad line. And it's no coincidence that Beaufort cheeses are so large. And in the mountains, the weather and winding roads teach you how to package your products intelligently. In the North, we invented Maroilles to keep warm..." The son of a cheesemaker, Philippe Olivier would have run any business. "With a vocational diploma in accounting and customer experience, I was ready for anything. The fruit and vegetable branch tempted me one day." But loyal to his grandfather's grocer Ernest Leroux, he ended up apprenticing with the Bosts, Pascauds (Paris) and Edouard Sentir (Cannes). One of my bosses told me I'd be a "affineur" the day I liked moldy Cantal. A strange profession.

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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