In June of this year, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting one of our newest specialty cheese vendors, Beillevaire Fromager, in the coastal town of Nantes, France. I traveled to meet Fabrice Beillevaire and to see the company’s production facilities and retail outposts throughout France.
It’s a Tuesday and it’s pouring rain. I meet Fabrice at my hotel at 6:30 am to begin my day-long adventure to Fontenille, a small town in west-central France, where the Beillevaire goat milk cheeses are made. Fabrice’s voice is lively, his step quick, and his passion for the family business is strongly evident even in these early morning hours. On our drive to Fontenille, Fabrice starts to tell the story of his father and the family business.
More than 30 years ago in the small town of Machecoul, in the Loire-Atlantique region of western France, Pascal Beillevaire began his business selling fresh produce, rich cream and homemade butter from his parent’s dairy farm. Pascal took an early interest in sourcing the best quality cow milk from the family farmstead and surrounding farms to make the best quality dairy products. As time went on, his interest in cheese production grew to include cheeses made from various milks as well as from various regions throughout France.
From the beginning, quality and a commitment to the land, historical tradition and time-honored relationships, were at the forefront of the Beillevaire family business. Today, this business model remains true under Pascal’s son, Fabrice.
I can certainly say that the preservation of the farmstead and artisanal cheese-making traditions thrive at Beillevaire Fromager, whether the cheese is created by the artistic hands of a Beillevaire cheesemaker or made by their community of artisanal cheesemakers and then carefully aged under a watchful eye within the Beillevaire caves.
We visit the Fontenille facility where goat milk cheeses are being formed lovingly by hand. I am overwhelmed by fresh, sweet milk smells, and the tranquil silence of the curing rooms where small, pure white cheeses sit quietly on racks, waiting to come of age and to reveal their goût de terroir (literally “taste of place”) to the world. The attention to detail, the passionate air of the cheesemaker and all of the vibrant personalities within the 10-person team shows through as I walk from room to room. Fabrice knows everyone by name and continuously asks how their families are as we proceed to the final tasting room and the delectable assortment of cheeses within.
As we sit and devour one fabulous cheese after another, Fabrice continues to enlighten me on Beillevaire Fromager.
Beillevaire makes about 10 cheeses – butter, yogurts, crème fraiche and a variety of other dairy products. The company also oversees the processes involved in milk procurement and affinage (cheese ageing). The company represents 400 different cheeses from 250 producers, 80 of which are Beillevaire exclusives. Affinage takes place in three cave locations.
The Beillevaire family is involved with local, daily cheese market outposts in small rural towns and in the city of Nantes, as well as in large-scale, full-service Fromagerie cheese shops within neighboring towns and in Paris. All are different, yet all are very similar in that, through their products, they tell the story of historical record while supporting the ancestral traditions of the rural, artisanal cheesemaker.
We spend the remainder of my trip visiting local markets and shops, tasting marvelous cheeses and meeting knowledgeable, passionate people. My learning experience is punctuated by the rare treat of visiting the facility where the famous Beillevaire cow milk butter is produced. Tumbling out of aged wooden churns, the butter is pressed by hand into antique wooden butter molds that show embossed family and historic restaurant names, and all of which lend support to the notion of tradition in their final pressings.
In this fast-paced, ever-changing global economy of food production, Beillevaire Fromager brings into focus the importance of slowing down, being mindful and in the seasonal moment. The family’s attention to detail in sourcing, the highest standards of quality, a sense of place and tradition, their passionate affair with cheese, all speak to a new tradition in the making — Beillevaire Fromager. ALWAYS THE BEST … in everything they do! Thank you. I am thrilled to know and to partner with the Beillevaire family and to introduce all of our customers to Beillevaire Fromager!
Beillevaire cheeses currently available at Heinen’s: Long Blanc Chevre, Crottin de Pays Cendré, Chabichou du Poitou DOP (Gold Medal Winner), Comté 30-36 Month, Ardéchois Bichonné, Tomme de Savoie, Bleu du Bocage. Raclette de Montagne will return for its seasonal appearance beginning in October–February.