Professional affineur: Hervé Mons and the daily care of cheese

In 1964 Hurbet Mons and his wife Rolande started selling cheese in markets around Roanne, in the Loire region of central France. Nineteen years later in 1983, their eldest son Hervé opened the family’s first fixed store in the covered market of Les Halles Diderot in Roanne, followed by others in Renaison and Montbrison and the creation of an aging cellar in Saint-Haon-le-Châtel.

Widely recognized internationally for his savoir-faire, Hervé Mons was awared the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best French Craftsmen) in 2000, and is a veteran of past editions of Cheese. As one of the stars of the international market and Taste Workshop programs, Hervé is a great inspiration to the world of cheesemaking and affinage.

WHERE TO FIND HERVÉ MONS AT CHEESE 2019

Hervé Mons and a Salers breed cow with calf. The Salers has a red coat, lyre-shaped horns and its highly-developed maternal instinct: it’s impossible to milk it without the physical presence of its calf.

CHEESE AS A COMPLEX SYSTEM

In your Taste Workshop at Cheese 2019, through the tasting of five products you’ll show us how cheese is a complex system, which combines environmental factors with animal welfare, the quality of milk and, of course, human ingenuity. With the cheesemaker’s knowledge, these disparate elements are transformed into a unique, high-quality product. Can you define what “living cheese” means in relation to the place it’s made, and to what extent human intervention is necessary to make it?

A living cheese, as they all are, more or less, is a cheese of expression, of taste, aroma, and consistency. A living cheese has a personality in each phase of its evolution. The human intervention must be based on the observation of local traditions and the climate. The role of the cheesemaker is that of the regulator, the agent who makes sure that all the parameters are satisfied. Their intervention must be inspired by common sense, by rigorous standards, and benevolence towards the milk.

CHEESEMAKING AND BUTCHERY

We know about a new project of yours where you’re using the whey from cheese production to feed pigs and make charcuterie. Can you tell us more?

Traditionally, it wasn’t infrequent to find a cheesemaker and a pig farmer in the same village. This contiguity guaranteed the recycling of buttermilk and whey, byproducts which can be extremely polluting if they’re reprocessed. Cheese and meat were often sold under the same roof. We wanted to reconnect with these traditions. Maison Mons is a small cheesemaker with a local vocation, where our concern for the environment, methods of production and selling are a permanent feature.

A few kilometers away from us, in a mountainous region, there’s a producer of pork who raises his animals semi-wild. We cool and conserve our whey to deliver to him twice a week. The pigs are then slaughtered and processed by a local company, Maison Chillet, which has specialized in butchery since 1902.

We’ve pushed ourselves a little further, experimenting with the addition of peculiar cheeses in the processing of pork meat. In particular: a raw goat’s milk tomme aged in a cave, the blue 1924 which is emblematic of our company, the Fourme de Montbrison, made with raw cow’s milk, the raw milk Cantal fermier from the Salers cow, and the Beaufort aged 18 months.

The Salers Tradition (recognizable by the mark imprinted on the form) it an artisanal cheese made exclusively with raw milk of the Salers breed cow. It’s produced from April to October, when the cows graze on pasture, and then aged for a minimum of three months.

PROFESSIONAL AFFINEUR

At Cheese 2019, we’ll present a new Master’s course at the University of Gastronomic Sciences based on the profession of the affineur. How does one become an affineur? How did you become one?

The work of an affineur is complex and technical, in the continuity of the productive process, and also empirical. It’s a job which requires a lot of experience, patience, and certain observational skills, common sense and a perfect knowledge of the environmental parameters, humidity, ventilation, aeration, temperature, and so on. Affinage is the second processing of cheese. It’s a sort of alchemy which allows us to develop aromas, tastes and consistency in the cheese.

If you want to do this job you need to travel and understand every type of aging for every type of cheese. You need to roll up your sleeves in the cellar: learn to turn the forms, scrub them, wash them, and give them all the necessary care for their evolution. You need to know the phase before affinage well too, i.e. the true production of the cheese, by working closely with the producers.

In my experience, when I started I toured around France for a few years, working with different affineurs, and a I did several courses on production. I’m still perfecting my knowledge today.

What’s your favorite cheese, and why?

The cheese which fascinates me most, I think, is Salers Tradition, both for the uniqueness of the productive process and the method of raising the animals and the technique of milking them. It’s a real symbiosis between the farmer, the animal and nature.

by Silvia Ceriani, info.eventi@slowfood.it

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