Interview of the day: defending cultural and historical cheeses

A cheesemaker in Boulogne-sur-mer, co-president of the Cercle des fromagers affineurs, member of the Syndicat national des crémiers fromagers and the Fromages de terroir association, Philippe Olivier campaigns for the defense of real cheeses and raw milk cheeses.

You've been an early campaigner for local cheeses ...

Exactly. For four generations, we've been "in the milk, cream and cheese business". The story began in 1907 in Normandy. While his older brother carried on the family tradition in Dieppe, my father did the same in Hauts-de-France, where he settled in 1974. He had run out of natural caves for maturing, so he had five red-brick ones built, each with a different atmosphere. In 2014, we moved them to our new site in Boulogne-sur-Mer. Humidity, temperature, light density... we paid attention to every detail.

How has cheese consumption evolved in France?

For the past three or four years, it has stagnated at around 24 kg per inhabitant per year, which is quite considerable. At the beginning of the last century, we were at 3 kg. It is estimated that 10% to 12% of cheeses are distributed by small creameries and cheese ripeners, and 20% are made from raw milk...

And what is the share of industrial cheeses? Is it increasing?

This is no longer true. Industrial products have made great strides with the development of supermarkets... But today, for example, highly industrialized Camemberts are on the decline, while raw-milk, hand-milled Camemberts are on the rise again. There's been a clear turnaround over the last three or four years. This is good news. I've got nothing against industrial products, but what I don't want is to be led to believe that these industrial products are farmhouse or traditional products. For me, it's a choice of society, of purchasing, of freedom, that people should be able to choose between a big red or a Chinon wine... Do we want a cultural and historical cheese? Industrial cheese has to exist to support dairies, but let's not pretend that a certain number of industrial cheeses are farmhouse cheeses!

How are local cheeses faring in Nord-Pas-de-Calais?

There are more than forty cultural and historical cheeses. But you have to be careful: some farmers and artisans don't make the historic cheeses of our region. There are people, for example, who make Camembert in the North of France: no, let's leave Camembert to the Normans! There are people who make goat's cheese pyramids in the north of France: that's the Loire region. There are people who make tome cheese in the North: no, let's leave that to the Savoyards. Because it sells well, a certain number of people are drifting ... I deplore that. There are enough good cheeses in the Nord region, like Bergues, Maroilles and coeur d'Arras. It would be a mistake to copy cheeses from other regions of France that don't correspond to our cow breeds, our terroir and our climate!

Directed by Nord Éclair

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