Myriam Bilbault, Specialist at Cheese Club, On How to Eat Cheese – The French Way
If there is one thing the French are particular about, it is their selection of cheese – even more so when paired with wine. It all makes sense when we uncovered that their rich tradition dates back to the early 13th century, with over 400 varieties under their sleeves.
Inheriting the cheese-making culture and bringing it across continents is the Cheese Club, which has been curating and selecting the highest-standard produces from European artisanal farmers since 2018. From the group of experts, Myriam Bilbault, cheese specialist at Cheese Club, shares how her French heritage shaped her career, the best cheese on the market and of course, how to savour this age-old gourmet bits by bits, in the French way.
Can you tell us about yourself and how you became a cheese master?
Let’s say we are always coming back to the source. I started making goat’s milk cheese when I was 14 years old with my dad in Limousin, a small region in the centre of France. I decided to study hospitality and catering and worked in gastronomic restaurants, but when I turned 21, I felt this career did not suit my goals, so I came back to my first love for farm products and cheeses.
I found an internship and studied with a famous affineur in France called Alain Michel. I joined his team, and stayed with his family for almost 5 years – they are like my family now. It was a beautiful experience for me. I learned so much. I competed in the cheese world and even won a few awards. But the most important thing I learned was discipline, confidence, patience (still have some progress to do here), seasonality and respect for the product during these years. I travelled abroad, and it has been five years since I landed in Hong Kong. I now have more than 17 years of working in the cheese field. I love it and I think I made the best choice the day I decided to embark back on this path.
What are the main benefits of purchasing cheese from an expert fromagerie?
The main benefits are obviously the fact you will get advice and better-quality products. Also, cheese masters will always try to find the best product, and sell it at the right moment of the affinage (maturing), during the right season. They will give you a quality of service you can’t get in a random supermarket.
My advice is: if you can, try to avoid industrial products. You don’t know where the milk is coming from, you don’t know which kind of conservatives or ferments they added to give these tastes, textures, and colors. Follow at least, the labels of approval, like AOP/ DPO/ IGP etc. They give you a good indication of the quality of the product.
Buying with Cheese Club is always a winner! We work a lot on building a high-quality cheese selection and it changes every month. We are the only ones in Hong Kong sourcing cheese directly from producers, making sure they arrive and are kept in the best conditions. Also, I am very happy that we can offer such good prices (usually 50% cheaper than HK retail prices): cheese is not a luxury product – everybody should be able to enjoy it!
How did your family background support your career?
My family always support what I do as long as I am happy and assume all my choices. They are happy I keep the tradition of cheese in the family as we are makers from a few generations. One day, I will probably come back to this and make again my own cheese. Who knows?
Which are the bestselling cheeses from Cheese Club?
As I said earlier, we are happy to offer a wide selection coming from small producers. My personal top five cheeses are really like a “Tour de France”, bringing flavours from every region
1. Our Beaufort, especially Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage, aged by Alain Michel in the French Alps
Basically, the expression ‘’d’Alpage’’ means that the cheese must be made from cows that freely graze in high mountains pasture from June to October. It creates a wonderful milk, rich in aroma and fattiness from fresh flowers and grasses. Beaufort develops buttery and nutty flavours during its affinage with crusty and savoury amino acid crystals in its paste. A real journey to the French Alps that melts in mouth.
2. Our Ossau Iraty, a typical cheese from the Basque country, produced by the small Fromagerie d’Aramits
A unique sheep’s milk cheese, easy to pair, with delicate caprine hints that will surprise all the fearful goat or ewe cheeses people. With a beautiful ivory and oily paste comes sweet nutty and savoury – almost oliveish – subtle flavours. Paired with a black cherry jam, it is definitely a must for this summer!
3. Our Saint-Félicien from the Dauphiné region, produced by the Cooperative Vercors Lait
If you like extra creamy cheese, this one is one of our best-sellers. A runny fresh cow’s milk cheese, with a thin fluffy natural rind. The perfect new spread. Acidulous, milky, and grassy, it is perfect on a slice of toasted walnut bread.
4. Our Sainte-Maure de Touraine from Loire-Valley, produced and aged by Rodolphe Le Meunier
A goat milk cheese, one of the best AOP in France. Easily recognisable for its grey ashy rind, its log shape, and above all its straw crossing over the paste, engraved with the producer number and AOP mention. It is white and dense and tastes like fresh grass, fresh wood, and hazelnuts during the Spring season. Its notes evolve in the Fall towards dry hay, mushroom, and dried nuts. I recommend to pair it with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc from Touraine.
5. A last classic, our Saint-Nectaire, aged by la Fromagerie du Buron in Auvergne
I can’t finish my selection without a Saint-Nectaire. From the French volcanic Massif central Region, it has a flowery and fluffy greyish rind. Its look is rustic as its smell: cave, soil, mushroom. But don’t be fooled, its chewy-to-creamy paste reveals sour cream, nutty and fruity flavours with herbal notes. It is heresy if you avoid eating the rind of this cheese. Rind and paste together with a fruity red wine and it's just heaven on earth.
What are your top tips to eat cheese the right way?
Usually, I do say to just eat it as you like, there are no rules. But the truth is, cheese is as delicate as wine. If you want to fully understand it, that’s not the same. The basics are to use your five senses.
First, take your cheese out of your fridge at least 20 minutes before the tasting. Like red wines, cheese should be at room temperature.
Second, smell your cheese. Smell and taste are closely linked, and the flavour of a product is the combined experience of these two senses. While your tongue detects the basic tastes like savoury, sweet, sour, your nose reveals the flavours.
Cut and touch it. Take a small piece of it and squeeze it between your thumb and index to assess its texture. Squeezing it also enhances and develops its fragrance. On the nose, new aromas come up.
Finally, the best part: tasting. Try the first bite of paste, shaved from its rind and of course, take your time.
You can now enjoy a nice slice!
What are five of your favourite pairings with cheese?
Let’s mix the classic and original taste together:
1. Fig and goat cheese: a basic
2. Thinly sliced radish and cucumber with fresh creamy cheese, triple cream cheese
3. A dark beer with a washed rind, the pungent orange and creamy one like Epoisses
4. Blue cheeses and White Port wine, mixed and infused together. Spread that on toasted sourdough bread. That’s a perfect match
5. 80-90 % dark chocolate with an aged cheese like an old Comté of at least 24 months. The roasted hints and bitterness of the chocolate on a sharp fruity and buttery Comté
What equipment does every cheese lover need in their home?
There are multiple cheese tools, even when you're only talking knives. But start with a basic like the famous Laguiole’s knives. You can do everything with it, it is solid, good looking, and will nicely cut every type of cheese.
In France, we love to eat melted cheese, especially in winter. Every home has a raclette grill and a fondue pot. It’s a very convivial way to enjoy cheese with nice company.
Devoted to delight Hong Kong foodies, Cheese Club brings a wide range of premium European gourmet products from handcrafted cheeses to seasonal organic fruits and vegetables and exclusive gourmet items such as smoked salmon, foie gras, and quality cold cuts at the best price that you can find in town. All these can be paired with a selection of great wines. Subscribe to their newsletter and stay updated on their signature Monthly Offer where you can discover newly curated products every month.
All images courtesy of Cheese Club.
Website: cheeseclub.hk | Instagram: @cheeseclub.hk | WhatsApp: +852 6576 4221 | Email: email@example.com
This article is also available in Chinese