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France's Kitchen Story

Mastering the art of cheese

Mastering the art of cheese

Hervé Mons is the guiding star of French cheese-making. His ‘affinage’, or ‘cheese ageing’, is a perfect mix of traditional craftsmanship and modern technology.

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Cheese Ripening - The love is in the detail

The kingdom of cheese

The French know how delicious cheese should taste. Cheese is frequently aged for months. Our French neighbours refer to the process of ripening cheese as affinage, and it is a perfect blend of traditional craftsmanship and modern technology. Hervé Mons is an arbiter of good taste. We asked him to explain the philosophy behind aging cheese.

Who is Hervé Mons?

Hervé Mons is one of the best affineurs in France. His cheese is known to gourmets around the world. His cellars hold over 100 tonnes of cheese. Hervé Mons, age 53, directs “Maison Mons” together with his brother Laurent. The two multiple prize winning affineurs have built a cheese empire that currently serves over 20 countries and has offices in Roanne, Lyon, Aix-en-Provence, London, Stockholm and Madrid. That explains why this nature-loving Frenchman doesn't seem at all out of touch. During his rare days off, his favourite activities are cross-country running and mountain biking.

Who is Hervé Mons

Early in the morning,

as the sun casts its first rays over the rugged Auvergne mountain range, Hervé Mons’ minivan makes its way up the winding road. He drives fast – very fast. You almost feel like you’re racing along in a Formula One car. The Frenchman laughs quietly and reassuringly: “There’s nothing to be afraid of, I drove in the Paris-Dakar Rally for 20 years.” The Paris-Dakar Rally is the toughest off-road rally in the world. Hervé Mons steers his car the same way he steers his cheese empire: safely and with great sensitivity.

Obtaining this milk by hand is hard work

On this particular morning, Hervé Mons is on his way to his milk supplier high in the mountains of Égliseneuve. In this remote region live Josiane and Henri Bapt, who for three generations have been raising Salers, an old French cattle breed known for its delicious milk. Obtaining this milk is hard manual labour. Following the natural cycle, cows start giving milk once they’ve been stimulated by a calf. Milking is done twice a day, seven days a week from April to November. Each milking produces 280 to 300 litres, or nearly 40,000 litres per month, which corresponds to about 4000 kilograms of cheese.

Obtaining this milk is hard work done by hand
Obtaining this milk is hard work done by hand
Obtaining this milk is hard work done by hand
Obtaining this milk is hard work done by hand
Obtaining this milk is hard work done by hand
Obtaining this milk is hard work done by hand
Obtaining this milk is hard work done by hand
Obtaining this milk is hard work done by hand
Good cheese is impossible without superior raw materials

“Good cheese is impossible without superior raw materials"

Hervé Mons often comes here to interact with his suppliers. “A close, friendly relationship is important,” he finds. His philosophy: “Good cheese is impossible without superior raw materials. These are milk producers who control the way their cows live and what they eat, which in turn affects how the milk tastes. We work with 130 raw milk farmers in France and Switzerland who produce milk according to the old tradition.” While he talks he pours a shot of still-steaming milk into a cup and tastes: a slightly sweet aroma of honey and nuts. It’s the basis for Saint-Nectaire Fermier, the highly aromatic raw milk cheese of the region.

Every single detail in the production chain is important, no matter how small

“In addition to milk quality and cheese production, the climatic conditions during ripening also play an important role,” he explains. The heart of his company is an abandoned 185 metre-long railway tunnel in which five large wooden train cars store 100 tonnes of cheese at 94 percent humidity and 9°C. “Maison Mons” has three such tunnels. Hervé Mons talks about handling the cheese during its ripening with deep emotion and passion - almost as though he were talking about raising his own children. “For the flavour and consistency to optimally develop, each cheese requires very special care,” says Mons.

All five senses

All five senses

Together with his 28 employees, Mons observes, monitors, and controls the process. All five senses are called into play, even hearing. Thumping on the rind helps to identify the cheese’s stage in the ripening process. It takes between four months and three years before the cheese is mature and then beautifully packaged and sent off to urban gourmet meccas.

"We’d rather invest in our quality”

The quality of their products has long earned “Maison Mons” a worldwide reputation - without the aid of a huge PR machine. “We don’t need it, we’d rather invest in our quality,” says the Frenchman and a wreath of laugh lines appears on his face. “Word-of-mouth advertising is much more effective.” He makes a modest and natural impression, even though he's become a global player in the gourmet industry.

The quality of their products has long earned “Maison Mons” a worldwide reputation - without the aid of a huge PR machine. “We don’t need it, we’d rather invest in our quality,” says the Frenchman and a wreath of laugh lines appears on his face. “Word-of-mouth advertising is much more effective.” He makes a modest and natural impression, even though he's become a global player in the gourmet industry.

A heavenly taste of the French way of life

A heavenly taste of the French way of life: Savoir-vivre.

Mons Fromage in Saint-Haon- le-Châtel is known far beyond the borders of France. It is the world of affinage which is so appreciated by gourmets, and this 53-year-old man seems to be an expert of good taste.

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