A man of many hats: farmer, cheesemaker, affineur, merchant, and passionate promoter of great French cheese – this is the story of Pascal Beillevaire. Beillevaire, who hails from Machecoul, France, has taken on all those jobs and more. Originally a dairy farmer who became a cheesemaker, he now also buys young, unripened cheese from some of the best cheesemakers in France and ages them to perfection, selling them under his Beillevaire private label. In addition, he owns twelve shops in France and a brand new store in London, as well as the coolest rolling cheese shop you have ever seen (I so want a cheese-shop-on-wheels of my own!). Every single cheese I have ever tasted with his name on it has been superb.
It’s true that there are many people who do each of the things that Beillevaire does, but very few who do all that he does. It is important to note that he is a farmer first and has a profound understanding of everything that goes into making great cheese. The land has to be healthy to produce high-quality food; the high-quality food insures your animals can produce the finest milk; the finest milk is essential to great cheese…but it all starts with the land. It is critical to understand this connection to the land so one can coax the best flavors from the cheeses.
In addition to farming, Beillevaire is an affineur, selecting young cheeses from great makers, then monitoring their aging development and discerning when to sell them at their peak of flavor. This task requires a great deal of skill, knowledge, and the ability to market the finished product. He has gone through this process with approximately 400 (!) different cheeses that are currently aging in his ripening caves in Machecoul.
Beillevaire’s third occupation is that of a merchant of a carefully curated selection of cheeses. He has various retail shops under his name (mainly clustered in the Loire-Atlantique region of France, with a few in Paris), and he takes his rolling cheese palace to more than 100 markets each week. He also exports his cheese to America. This man sells a lot of French cheese, and it's always the crème de la crème.
Here are descriptions of three delectable cheeses currently available in America from Beillevaire:
Morbier Fermier: One of the cheeses Beillevaire ages, this is a lightly washed-rind, raw cow's milk, AOC-controlled cheese. The cheese is made distinctive by the signature layer of vegetable ash running through it. Historically, the bottom layer of this cheese was made with the milk from the night’s milking, then the partial wheel was covered with a layer of ash; the following morning, the top layer of the cheese would be made from fresh milk from the morning’s milking. Today, both layers are made at the same time, but the ash keeps the cheese's look traditional. It is a somewhat mild cheese with great melting qualities. It works well in raclette, melted in a gratin, or with a modest glass of pinot noir wine.
Secret du Couvent: This cheese is made by Beillevaire himself in the style of Trappist cheeses like St. Paulin or Chimay. The nuns of l’Abbaye de la Coudre in Laval had stopped production of the cheese for a decade, but reached out to Beillevaire in 2007 and established a partnership in which Beillevaire’s company makes the cheese from the nun’s recipe and they both share in the profits. The cow’s milk cheese is washed to create the beautiful orange rind, imparting a distinctive odor and helping create the subtle flavors of the cheese. It is aged for at least 90 days so that it develops a broad spectrum of taste. This cheese is fantastic served with a crisp, cool pear cider.
Blanc Bleu du Rizet: A raw goat’s milk farmstead cheese from Auvergne, made exclusively for Beillevaire by the Rizet family. It comes in a beautiful cylindrical form, which is great for presentation. This cheese exemplifies what is great about French raw milk goat cheeses: their overt expression of minerality. This cheese has the subtle tastes of chalk, wet stone, and citrus running through it. It has hints of interior bluing in addition to an interesting interior white mold. The cheese is aged for at least three months, and it is generally sold in America at its peak age of between four and five months old. I love this cheese at room temperature, served on warm crusty bread with a drizzle of citrus honey and a sauvignon blanc wine.
These cheeses represent a mere fraction of Pascal Beillevaire’s extensive portfolio. But the diversity of these three cheeses alone speaks to the depth and breadth of the cheeses Beillevaire makes himself, the cheeses he selects and ages, and the cheeses he seeks out and brings to market. This is a man who represents the best in French cheese along every step of production, a man who is committed to all facets of cheesemaking – from the tilling of the land all the way to the promotion of the cheese on an international level. While it’s hard to imagine that a country with such a long, storied culinary history can be led to new heights of greatness today, Beillevaire has shown that even a simple farmer can enrich France’s remarkable cheese tradition.
Additional reporting by Madeleine James.