A Gentleman Farmer, a Chevrier and a Maître Fromager
“J’aime ce qui est bon; pas la nouvelle cuisine. J’aime la bonne cuisine du terroir, alors la cuisine familiale. (I like what is good; not nouvelle cuisine but good regional cooking, family style).” So says François Moggia, speaking of his journey in life and where he has arrived.
François started as a banker, then charted a course toward the business of selling sailboats. He has owned and operated four restaurants in Marseille, and along the way dabbled in real estate before settling down with his goats, turkeys and various other creatures on his farm in Paradou.
François’ current job title should read: Gentleman Farmer. Originally from Marseilles, he now lives between Provence and Paris. His farm is on the edge of the historically protected village of Paradou at the base of the Alpilles mountain range. He loves this land and has developed a devotion to the rural culture of the area. Of his farm, François says, "C’est pas pour l’argent, c’est pour l’amour (It’s not for money, it's for love).” He firmly believes it is vital to keep small farms operating and producing artisanal products, and that this is the lifeblood of French rural life.
There are about 50 goats on François’ farm, which provide milk for the Atelier Fromager des Calans, his production facility where that milk is made into chèvre (goat cheese). Yannick Borel, the son of farmers, is the chèvre maker or chevrier who works with François. Yannick, who has always loved animals, tenderly cares for the goats year-round. These goats are clearly happy with their lives here on this splendid farm in Paradou; they are gentle, delightful, warm and curious creatures. For the most part, the females give birth in February and March, which renews their ability to produce milk, which they continue to do well into autumn.
The trade of chevrier is a relatively new profession. In pre-World War II France, most families had several goats and made their own chèvre. As the country changed in the post-war era, fewer families kept goats and a new métier was born.
Yannick has three varieties of goats under his charge: Alpine, Syrian and Saanen. Most farmers will keep one breed and produce cheese from that single breed but Yannick combines the milks to create his cheeses. Each breed produces milk with different fat content and other flavour qualities. Yannick likes to play with the balance to achieve his own proprietary blend.
The Atelier Fromager des Calans is a small artisanal producer, and because of European Market regulations, their chèvre can only be sold within a 45-kilometer radius of the farm. The Atelier, located in the neighbouring town of Maussane, is open during production to the public and the chèvre is available for purchase, and as well it supplies restaurants, small shops and market stands in many surrounding villages.
Just 10 minutes north of the farm is one such cheese shop, located in the slightly larger Saint Rémy de Provence. In the historic center of this quintessential provincial town, one need only follow his or her nose and the earthy smell that wafts through the cobblestoned streets to find the shop of Monique Mayer, Maître Fromager de la Guild des Fromagers (Master Cheese Monger, as awarded by the Guild of Cheese Mongers). No easy title to attain. Monique worked for 14 years to proudly earn this status, and has been in the business for 35 years.
Her lovingly curated shop features cheese from all of France but especially this, the Bouches-du-Rhône region, which means a lot of chèvre, as it is the principal cheese produced in this part of the country defined by the Alpilles, the Rhône river and its delta. She also stocks a large selection of wines and products, many proprietary, that pair well with cheese.
Generally, there are three types of chèvre: soft, semi-hard and hard. Soft or fromage frais (fresh cheese) is aged for a matter of days, very creamy in consistency and has a delicate flavour; semi-dry is aged for 12 to 15 days and has a thicker skin while maintaining a velvety middle; and dry is exactly that — a solid piece of chèvre. The flavour evolves to be more pungent, intensifying as the cheese ages. Monique has a cave d’affinage (cheese cellar) where she stores and ages her cheeses. The aging process most often happens at the atelier where the cheese is produced, but it can be further aged in the cave d’affinage in the shop. Monique’s cave is an old vaulted passageway that dates back to the 12th century. In this space, she enthusiastically shares her knowledge in formal classes and holds special events that feature her cheeses and other offerings.
Upon visiting this terroir, one truly has a sense that the Bouches-du-Rhône, or District 13 of France as it is otherwise known, is a special place that is lost in the traditions of the past but at the same time — and more importantly — an indication of where we need to return to in the future. There is a thankfulness for the bounties of the land and a joy in being part of it all. Monique, François and Yannick are a few of many here in the agricultural belt that surrounds the Alpilles who make their passion their business. Monique inadvertently sums up the spirit of the region when she says, “Des fermiers qui aiment leurs animaux sont récompensés avec des produits de meilleurs qualité. (Farmers who love their animals are rewarded with better quality products).”
L'Atelier Fromager des Calans Hameau des Calans, Route du Destet 1352O Mausane les Alpilles, FRANCE
La Cave Aux Fromages Monique Mayer 1 Place Hilaire, 13210 Saint Rémy de Provence, FRANCE 04 90 92 32 45