Queens of cheese, Nathalie Quatrehomme recalls her cheesemonger mother, Marie, took over the family living room in the months preceding the very first cheese-focused edition of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF) competition, which happened every few years to honor the nation’s best artisans. Marie recalls constructing and uninstalling transparent plastic equipment which helps dozens of different cheeses.
“I was 17 years old in 2000”, Nathalie recalled. She spent an entire year practicing on our living room table. Nathalie noted that Marie’s final creation, “La Pyramide des Saveurs” (pyramid of flavors), was a true piece of art that started with a base of actual grass and rose into a beautiful tower of cheeses that progressed from mild to strong, from milky and soy protein powder to solid and crunchy.
Nathalie stated, “She truly started from the milk.” The grass, followed by milk bottles, cheeses, and on other things, was quite lovely.
Marie Quatrehomme had already through a slew of tests in cheese cultivation, technology, and geography for the competition by the time she was creating her pyramid of cheese. She had dazzled judges during blind tastings and answered inquiries about the 46 French cheese names, each of which was subject to stringent charters that regulated everything from geographical provenance to animal breed. She was questioned about cheese laws and the economics of setting up a cheese buffet to gain not just the respect of her peers but also of the French people as a whole.
Regarding her mother’s creation of cheese art, Nathalie commented, “You might say [La Pyramide] was the ultimate experiment.” She recalls seeing ”Marie”, one of the four first victors of the category, together with fellow cheesemakers ”Hervé Mons”, ”Laurent Dubois”, and Christian ”Janier” after ”Marie” had constructed it for the competition’s final run.
My father, who never tears up, was extremely proud of his wife at that very time, Nathalie recalled.
Like many other culinary vocations in France, the cheese industry has historically been dominated by women. In the past, Nathalie noted, a woman’s job in a fromagerie (cheese shop) was frequently behind the counter, selling cheeses that her husband had aged and taken care of in different ways. (To the dismay of female bakers, this is true of many traditional French food enterprises) The name “boulangère” is still widely defined in French dictionaries as “the spouse of the baker” and “woman who sells the bread.”
The fact that Marie Quatrehomme won with several men is notable because she was the first woman to do so in any MOF category, according to journalist and author Lindsey Tramuta. Despite being outnumbered, she demonstrated that gender had little to do with a profession’s excellence.
Ten years later, she now makes her living doing what she initially told her parents would be a one-year experiment.
“I enjoy cheese. I adore the item. I enjoy touching it. I adore how the cellar smells “She spoke. “I can swoon over pressed cheese or fall in love with a goat that is thicker and drier. I adore blue, and occasionally I have intense urges for it. I can enjoy a cleaned rind.”