From Camembert to Bra: a caravan of natural cheeses from France

06 September 2023

For the second time, Nicolas Floret, founder and president of the association Fromages naturels de France, is organizing a tour across the country to reach Bra in time for Cheese.

Their journey is not just about acquiring the finest natural French cheeses and bringing them to Italy for our visitors to taste during the event. It’s something greater.

“We know that cheesemakers and farmers, in France as elsewhere, feel isolated and overwhelmed by their daily challenges,” Nicolas tells us. “The idea of the tour was born to allow them to connect with each other. They get to witness the production processes of different cheeses, to discuss their problems and propose solutions. In short, to gain valuable first-hand experience of the Slow Food network. To get a better understanding of how that network can help them to endure and make a difference.”

Packed itinerary

The travel itinerary is meticulously planned: “We’ll have just a few days, and we want to offer them as many experiences as possible. We also need to load up all the cheeses that we’ll be selling at Cheese!” It all starts on September 11 in Camembert, a small village of 200 inhabitants in Normandy. “Natural Farmhouse Camembert, a Slow Food Presidium, has become a symbol of the association in France. The Slow Food Community Fromages naturels de France represents the defense of raw milk cheeses produced following ancient traditions. It’s a bulwark against the encroaching trends of pasteurization and large-scale distribution, which some would like to market as a panacea for all ills.”

A flock of sheep in the French Pyrenees.

The first stop on the tour is Egliseneuve d’Entraigues. Here, our tour group will witness the milking of Salers cows and the production of Auvergne Salers Breed cheeses and two forms of Salers Saint-Nectaire. Salers cows, less productive than others, can only be milked when they are close to their calf. It’s the farmer’s responsibility to ensure that mother and calf are reunited for each milking. “The theme we will address with other farmers is generational change, as the last producer of Salers Saint-Nectaire is about to retire.”

Mountain cheeses

After Auvergne the group heads off to the pastures of the French Pyrenees to pick up some Malga cheeses from Béarn and mountain cheeses from the Basque Pyrenees. They’ll meet producers who live in small, isolated stone refuges, which are often difficult to access, and who make traditional tommes: large pressed raw milk cheeses.

Next, they cross the country, picking up some more Presidium cheeses like Pélardon affiné and Brousse du Rove and adding more cheesemakers to the caravan along the way. The final stops are in La Brigue, a small town close to the Italian border, where they’ll pick up some more tomes and a bit of Bleu de Queyras, special guests at Cheese, before crossing the border and reaching Piedmont.

Raw milk French cheeses on sale at Cheese.

Looking to the future: participatory guarantee systems

“We hope that this journey will help unite the spirits of these cheesemakers, and involve the younger generation more closely in the feeling of taking on these ancient traditions,” Nicolas says. “This was the goal behind the creation of the Fromages naturels de France association a few years ago. Now, looking to the future, we have lots of challenges to tackle. From climate change in the Camembert production area to the establishment of new future Slow Food Presidia, animal welfare commitments to the use of natural ferments. Lastly, and most ambitiously, we would like to create a participatory guarantee system to protect and demonstrate that producers of Natural Farmhouse Camembert are truly different from the others. In short, we have plenty of energy and enthusiasm. We look forward to meeting all the other producers at Cheese, and sharing our cheeses with the world!”

Conference to present new Slow Food Presidia

Welcome New Cheese Presidia is scheduled for Saturday, September 16 at 5 p.m., and it’s an opportunity to get up close with the latest arrivals in a prestigious club of dairy products protected by Slow Food: Genazzano cheese and Fodóm cheese.

The former is a pecorino from the Prenestini hills, on the outskirts of Rome, where two agricultural companies keep a centuries-old tradition alive by producing cheese using traditional copper cauldrons. The latter is a cheese from Col di Lana in Veneto, made from the milk of grass-fed cows and cut hay on the steepest slopes of the Dolomites. Both of these Presidia were born from a collaboration with FedEx, part of a commitment to supporting small-scale businesses and the development of local networks together with Slow Food Italy.

At the conference there are also two French-speaking protagonists: the Bleu de Queyras, a blue-veined cheese made from raw cow’s milk from the pastures of the Hautes Alpes region, and the Brigue Toma, made from the milk of the brigasca sheep, a sheep breed raised in the Roja Valley. We’ll also present the Plezzana sheep, which owes its name to the Slovenian town of Plezzo but is also found in the mountainous areas of the province of Udine and the Austrian region of Carinthia. Slow Food is currently initiating the protection process for this sheep breed as part of the Presidia project.

We wish Nicolas and the whole team a safe and cheesy journey!

by Alessia Pautasso, [email protected]

Cheese 2023 is organized by Slow Food and the City of Bra from September 15-18. See you there! #Cheese2023

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