National Cheese Day
"A country that can give the world three hundred cheeses cannot die", said Winston Churchill during the Second World War. To which Charles de Gaule retorted: "You can't govern a country that has 365 varieties of cheese...".
It's true that, with some 400 varieties, France is the country of cheeses par excellence and, along with Greece, one of the world's two leading cheese consumers, consuming some 24 kilos per person per year. But local cheese has to face up to competition from industrial production. By mobilizing several hundred cheesemakers for this 7th edition, National Cheese Day aims to raise awareness of this heritage among consumers and professionals alike.
Meals organized around cheese, plates of seven to eight varieties of seasonal cheese for the symbolic price of 1 euro, awareness-raising campaigns for students at catering schools, the dispatch of "snack boxes" for French people living abroad, to be collected from embassies, mainly in European countries, and poems about cheese written by schoolchildren: these are just some of the events organized for this National Cheese Day, in fact a long weekend showcasing local cheeses.
"Fromages de terroirs" is the name of the association founded by Véronique Richez-Lerouge, who initiated this national event, which grows in scope every year. From a dozen at the first event, some 300 cheesemakers are taking part this year.
Philippe Olivier, a cheesemaker in Boulogne-sur-mer, northern France, was one of the first militants. For over thirty years, in France and abroad, he has been defending this heritage to which his family has been attached for exactly one hundred years. RFI met him.
How has cheese consumption changed over the last few decades?
What are the basic rules for making a genuine local cheese?
As a cheesemaker in the north of France, you've created a special beer to drink with these cheeses.
What about wine? Is white wine the trend now?
We also associate sweet with savoury, including cheese.
Cheese runs in the family?
And there's the next generation?
My nephew took over the business in Rouen, a niece, my father's and then my brother's in Dieppe, and I have a son in Boulogne who, after studying in Paris, decided to go into the cheese business. When I told him he could do something else, he replied that working with small-scale farmers was an unforgettable memory and a pleasure he wouldn't find anywhere else.
The French cheese tradition is being exported. There's even a French cheese day in Japan...
I went to Japan for the first time 20 years ago. At the time, French cheese consumption was around 180 to 200 grams per capita per year. Today, it must be around 2 kilos. I certainly had one of the first cavistes in my house, who came for six months to learn how to work in the cellars. I'm surprised, because twenty years ago, tasting a Maroilles, a Munster or an Epoisse affiné, they didn't mind at all... And today, one of the most technical books on cheese was written by a Japanese woman, who travelled around France with a photographer and an assistant for two years.
With fashion, cuisine and its great chefs, wine and champagne, we should be talking a little more about cheese... When the French leave the country to work at the other end of the world, nothing pleases them more than a gift... believe me!
Produced by RFI
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