This week I was lucky enough to meet one of my real hero’s in the cheese world – Herve Mons.
Herve Mons is a third generation French ‘Affineur’, a true craftsman himself and passionate promoter of true artisan cheese making. I have mentioned ‘affinage’ in previous blog posts – a concept still relatively new in Australia but one that definitely deserves greater appreciation and understanding.
According to Mons, there are two important processes in creating cheese that greatly affect the quality of the end result; firstly, turning milk into curd and secondly, turning curd into cheese. Mons believes the first stage is the domain of the cheesemaker while the role of an affineur (or ‘refiner’) is to transform or ‘beautify’ the cheese into the final product. The cheesemaker-affineur relationship is important, as affinage will not make a bad cheese taste good, it can only make a good cheese taste better.
Mons works with 135 different producers, buying cheese young, direct from the producer and takes care of each cheese in such a way that they acquire their own unique characteristics. Different cheeses need to be nurtured in different environments in terms of humidity, temperature and ventilation so Mons has four different cellars available to age cheese within as well as a relatively new facility ‘Le Tunnel de la Collonge’ – a renovated railway tunnel that has been transformed into a cheese cellar! Each individual cheese requires its own special attention and is brushed, washed and rotated in order to bring out the best flavours possible. Mons explained that the most delicate step in refining cheeses is managing the airflow in the caves but compares the art of affinage to be a bit like cooking – a good chef will know how to adjust a recipe to be just right!
By buying cheeses young, Affineurs like Mons are able to provide more immediate cash flow to cheesemakers than if they matured cheeses themselves. From listing to Mons talk, I can see how cheesemakers are willing to trust him to develop the most out of their cheeses, both in terms of quality and their resulting sale price. In fact, Mons explained that if the proceeds from cheese sales is higher than expected, he willingly passes on gains back to the cheesemaker. Cheese Solidarity at its finest!