Cheese affineur of international reputation, Hervé Mons has been involved with Slow Food for over a decade. He tells us about his passion for cheese and reminds us that,we can all take a role in fighting for the survival of raw milk products.
"The work of a master affineur (maturer) is one of great passion, and each day we meet cheesemakers who are closely and emotionally bound to their region, with daily problems to resolve. This is why it was such a pleasure to discover Slow Food more than ten years ago when I attended Cheese, where we could bring the products of these unique artisans to the people; to help them discover, understand and protect this food heritage.
Since the first edition of Cheese in 1997, I've attended every two years with my team and for us it's always a very fulfilling experience. We've seen the evolution of the event over the years, and the success of Cheese is increasing because people come in search of authenticity - whether you are talking with producers, affineurs, consumers or anyone from the cheese world, there is truth in the exchange. I think the big success of Cheese is the interaction between consumers and professionals - there is often a wide separation between the two, but the event is all about building a real connection.
The world of dairy products has been troubled because the current system was not designed to allow for the qualities found in artisan cheeses. The focus has instead been on quantity, with the market steered towards standardized, pasteurized products. And because raw milk is a small-scale product, it is more demanding in terms of logistics and human involvement. Raw milk and the cheeses made from it are also having a hard time surviving because that quality comes at a certain price, meaning that the choice to preserve these products rests upon the consumer more than ever.
If cheese production standardizes in France, we will lose part of our history and our soul. It is essential we have resistance from all sides, so that raw milk can continue to thrive. Cheese is a miracle: a gift from nature that was born after accidental fermentation that men tried to understand and master, gradually acquiring skills - the ‘savoir-faire'.
Cheese diversity is infinite and I continue to discover new types every time I discover a new producer. An artisan who starts making a certain type of traditional cheese will obtain a different product than his neighbors. It's a bit like giving the same ingredients to five chefs asking them to follow one recipe: incredibly enough, it will result in five different dishes. Therefore, despite the difficulties in the business, as long as there continue to be new producers, there will always be new cheeses and discoveries."