Does the region want to retain its leading position in cheese production?

Does the region want to retain its leading position in cheese production?

This century was seven years old when the first Olivier set up shop as a cheesemaker. That was in Normandy, and his sons took over. Now we're in the third generation, and the youngest, Philippe Olivier, has had to "expatriate" to leave the Dieppois establishment to the eldest.

He had been seduced by a woman from the north of France, and was drawn to Boulogne-sur-Mer.

He arrived with 10,000 francs in his pocket, in 1974. His sales are now 15 million francs and he employs 15 people. He has become France's leading exporter in his niche as a traditional cheese refiner. His current target markets are eight European countries and Japan, where he is a consultant to a major group. The rest of his business is divided between restaurant deliveries throughout France and the branded concession stores he intends to set up in the 15 largest towns in the Nord-Pad-de-Calais region.

The vice-president of the Guilde des fromagers is worried: how many of the regional cheeses he showcases in this old Boulonnais farmhouse will still be around in ten years' time?

Over twenty cheeses!

So all's well with him, thank you. He's more concerned about the rapid pace of his progress. But his main concern is in fact the preservation, even the resurrection, of cheeses from Nord-Pas-de-Calais -Picardie, traditional cheeses, of course. If 80% of cheeses come from the dairy industry," he declares, "there's room in the remaining 20% for raw milk cheese, made immediately after milking by the craftsmen of farmers or small dairies. Nord-Picardie is a major agricultural center, and the largest cheese-producing region in terms of product diversity: over 20 cheeses! But if we do nothing, in 10 years' time many of these cheeses will have disappeared. Already, in 25 years, the number of cheese-makers has dropped from 60,000 to 8,000..."

Philippe Olivier's plan is to help the farmers continue their production and hire new staff. At a rate of ten to twelve people per existing cheese, some 250 jobs could be created. Not to mention the unemployment avoided by keeping farmers in rural structures. "In ten years, we could increase regional production tenfold," he exclaims.

Assured marketing

He assists with production, maturing and marketing. He knows the training courses available (3 agricultural high schools in the region); he advises on cheeses to be taken over or even created; he undertakes, if the production is carried out according to the rules of the art, to market it entirely.

A cheesemonger's store divides its sales into three equal parts: regional products, great classics and specialties. What's regional here obviously becomes a specialty in other French provinces. Philippe Olivier is vice-president of the "Guilde des fromagers", which means he sometimes wears the rough, old-fashioned dress of the profession. Embellished with a typical headgear, Philippe Olivier knows a whole network of "colleagues" who are just as purist as he is, and eager to offer good products from all over the world.

It also delivers to a large number of restaurants throughout France: any order placed before 10am is guaranteed to be delivered before 1pm the following day.

No problem then with marketing. All the more so as Philippe Olivier plans to set up a distribution company, initially for specialists, then for export.

What other projects does he have? With the support of Father Philippe, from the Mont des Cats abbey, he is currently setting up an association to defend monastic cheeses, with the creation of a label, a controlled appellation and production rules.

He also wants to set up a mail-order cheese company. It can indeed be packaged in vacuum bottles (without the addition of gas), but there is a problem of cost.

He joined the "Association for the Defense of Real Bread". He writes in magazines, participates in radio programs, and is about to appear on television. In short, his passion for cheese has taken over his entire life, and through it he expresses his passion for his adopted region. For the time being, he's using his own money to finance brochures and communication campaigns. Isn't it time for other relays to be set up?

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