He is an astounding artisan : a young man but with perfect balance, flexible and still very mature for his age, a reminiscent of a ready mature cheese. Heir to a fourth generation of collectors, refiners and sellers of exceptional cheese, Romain Olivier, in his turn, breathes modernity and perpetuates the tradition in his family business. He has a determined and in-depth work, that one can perceive in his eyes and his convictions, for he wants to bring a real added value in transmitting the good taste. The result is a typical cheese with a unique taste that awakens our senses and becomes a source of pleasure and sharing. When artisans put themselves at the service of time to give us the best of nature and life …
A centennial and award-winning House
“I am the grandson of the fourth generation, of a family crazy about cheese.” The story began in 1907, with Ernest Leroux who settled as grocer-creamer-cheese maker in Rouen. “He has already began to refine cheeses, setting up recipes to preserve them in a natural cellar for storage.” His fourth daughter, Geneviève will marry Marcel Olivier, Romain’s grandfather, and together, they will take over a grocery store in Dieppe which will become one of the most famous in Normandy. “Their activities were cheese and ripening, but also dry food and coffee as at Fauchon.” This is where Philippe Olivier, Marcel’s second boy, will begin his apprenticeship. “But my father had to leave his place and look for a job elsewhere, because he was not the eldest to get the right of inheritance and ownership.” That it caused him to exclaim on that day: “I’d do better than you and my brother!” And that thirst to learn and excel will never leave him again. He will leave to Paris to improve his skills with Jean Bost, a renowned Master Cheese Ripener who supplied the more upmarket gastronomic tables.
Then he will go to Cannes to work with Edouard Cénéri, and there, he will get the conviction of differentiating himself in fine cheeses, that are refined as an art. In 1974, at the age of 24, he finally moved to his own account, rue Adolphe Thiers, in Boulogne-sur-Mer, and he will quickly be noticed by the quality of his cheeses. They were all based on artisanal production that preserve the typical characteristics of the terroir, against the ready-made industrial cheeses that invaded the market. “His strength is to be a visionary, hard-working man, and he will establish a real proximity with local producers.” He will travel through France, refining all the local cheeses and presenting them in tasting trays, that will make his reputation in France and abroad. He will also serve the Elysee Palace tables and the Royal Family of England, in addition to famous banquets around the world. Sacred “Best Worker of France” in 1996, he will accumulate the distinctions by becoming President of French Cheesemakers from 2000 to 2015 and will be decorated with the Legion of Honor in 2017, for more than 50 years of commitment to the service of Cheese Gastronomy. “This passion becomes quickly contagious when you rub shoulders with such a person every day!”
Taking over the family business
Romain Olivier will grow with this excellent cheese lovers. “I was 5 or 6 years old, and I used to come and stay in the shop or the cellar, just to get a chance to see my father. During the holidays, we also moved together, but it was to meet local producers and taste their cheeses. For sure, this has sharpened my palate! “Born in 1984, he is the only son, to whom Father Philippe will give a great freedom f of choice of his future occupation. “That’s why, I took my distance in my training, but still I wanted to keep a link with the business, for a potential recovery.” Graduate from a leading Business School (ESC Tours Poitiers), with a Master degree from the Sherbrooke University of Canada, he will be back into the house in 2004, right in the middle of his studies. “At the end of the year, my dad had an important health concern. So, I felt that the time had come for me to help him.” He will do his second year of internship in the family company, and it will last up to 15 months where he will I end up getting all the trades. He will come back for good on May 9, 2006, just after his last day of study in Canada. There, alongside to his father, he will fully live the spirit of the company and its concern for authentic and natural products. That is favoring as much as possible raw milk cheeses, with quality rather than quantity, for to obtain the original tastes that preserve the diversity of the cheese heritage of France. In 2010, his father will retire, and he will naturally take over the reins of the company. “What attracted me the most was the human side of this job: to meet all these upstream producers, then to support all the team work, defending this traditional know-how which is of the order of the arts and crafts.
The refiner is the one who will recover a young cheese from a producer, who will put it in a particular microbial atmosphere, and become a crust worker in the service of the dough, and therefore to get the optimum taste. The work of the 30 employees of Philippe Olivier is build on this transformation that requires patience, finesse and perseverance. With four own boutiques, in Boulogne, Lille, Lens and Calais, eight other franchised stores, and a exportation in major cities around the world, all the emphasis is put on the difference in taste. It is the result of a huge value chain that favors excellence, the healthy and the natural. “It takes a lot of work to make a good cheese!” The feeding of animals, their race, the rhythm of the seasons and the unpredictability of Nature are all factors that will have an influence on cheese. Therefore, at the time of refining, the artisans will constantly adapt, adjust and proceed by trial and error and their individual touch. Ancestral technical gestures are used to perfect the cheese, day after day, and for 24 months sometimes. Washing, turning, salting and brushing them, with a very strict hygiene to control the microbial flora, that is specific to each refiner. “It is during this maturation that the cheeses will acquire their flavors and their final texture, their personality and their optimal quality.”
The Philippe Olivier’s house refines the 40 dairy PDOs and around 350 kinds of cheese over the seasons, sourcing the products from 180 producers in France and abroad. They also distribute real jewels, like forgotten cheeses or very small productions, that are due to beautiful human encounters. “We are very proud of our Maroilles cheese, a farmer’s cheese. It is made by a family with whom we have been working for over 30 years now, with traditional breeds of cows from the region. We will take it to maturity in 90 to 110 days, to get this flexibility and this particular taste.” They also sell the only raw milk cheese made today by nuns, at the Abbaye Notre-Dame du Pesquié. “We take the cheeses that are 12 weeks old and will be brought them to 6 months, returning and brushing them between two beds of natural straw. It will refine the taste and we will get a type of Saint Paulin which is long and expressive in mouth and has the specificities of the terroir of Ariège with the richness of its herbage. Plus, what a wonderful encounter with extraordinary women! “The house also sells one of the oldest Belgian cheeses, Herve from the country of Liège, which is alluded to in the romance of the Rose in 1228. Or, the Crayeux de Roncq, a farmer’s cheese raw cow’s milk, which is exclusively produced based on the traditions of a farmers’ family since 7 generations!
Transmitting the genuine worth of taste
” We need to educate our consumers to the taste and reveal them the original typicity of each cheese. And everyone should act to transmit this culture that comes to us through generations of cheesemakers.” There, the graduated student from a Business School goes in the universities, hotel schools and training centers all over the world to remind the stakes, explain and defend – with pedagogy these values. Romain Olivier is also a fine gastronomist and he works in partnerships with clients-restaurateurs and star-awarded Chefs, to elaborate their menus. “We can only compose the appropriate cheeses when we have the guideline of a meal.” Gérald Passédat (Le Petit Nice), Arnaud Lallemant (L’Assiette Chamenoise), Marc Meurin (Château de Beaulieu), and Benjamin Delpierre (La Liégeoise) are among his clients. And it’s no surprise to find him back in the Cheese Clubs he conducts for his customers, on the model of wine clubs. “We do these sessions to educate the taste of our customers and make them discover new flavors with a new experience.” They are such beautiful revelations, “as two years ago, when we tasted the perfect harmony of the Saint-Nectaire and the Swiss Gruyère d’Alpage with the classified Grands Crus of Besserat de Bellefon Champagnes.”
We do not do this job for ourselves. For Romain Olivier, what matters the most is to bring something good, authentic and unique in our lives. As this notion of offering is part of the history of cheese itself. To make known this art supporting its staff and helping them to go as far as possible, there lies the secret of his balance and blooming. In the end, he is not just a breeder of cheeses, but also of men and women who maintain by their commitments the terroirs’ finest traditions, or who want to open themselves to a different consumption with a gustatory signature that brings pleasure. Yes, as Oscar Wilde liked to say: Having the simplest tastes is indeed being always Satisfied with the best!
Interview held by Carine Mouradian on March 28, 2018, in Boulogne-sur-Mer
Link to the website of Maison Philippe Olivier
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