From London to Lyon: the English civil servant saying goodbye to the city and carving a career in cheese…
I still remember the mad panic of my friend in London a couple of years ago. She had mice running riot in her small apartment and her boiler had broken down; leaving her clutching a hot water bottle and engaged in a stand-off with the latest brazen rodent.
These are things that happen only when your boyfriend goes away.
‘Where’s Matt?’ I asked.
‘He’s in France for a month, living with goats,’ was not the answer I was expecting.
But it was the truth. Matt had indeed upped and jetted off to live and work in the mountains, so he could learn all about goat’s cheese production, right from land to plate. I always knew Matt had an unswerving passion for cheese, but little did I know that this was the beginning of a dramatic new lifestyle for them both. Just a year later, leaving behind a warm office and screens full of numbers, Matt Feroze had taken the brave step that many only talk about, and followed his nose all the way to Lyon to live out his cheese dream.
It’s a journey that has just this month made it into the public eye, as Matt successfully burst onto the French cheese scene by scooping the Champion des Fromagers de France 2013 – the first foreigner to ever win this prestigious competition. Matt’s (slightly shocked) face was suddenly ‘trending’ all over Facebook and Twitter, while his schedule filled up with journalist interviews and international radio station appearances. Everyone wants a slice of France’s best cheesemonger – especially considering the romantic story behind the win: a British accountant who left the London rat-race to follow his real passion.
I have to admit that the tales of cheese and wine evenings with their new French friends in Lyon had me a little envious. I pictured tables of animated, sophisticated discussions; tables laden with delectable food and plenty of chic scarves. But the truth of it is that, as much as it appears to be a romantic bohemian dream, this is a tale of hard graft and sacrifice. There were many weekends when the two of them could only spend a few hours together before Matt had to head back to the ‘cave’ for another intensive week of training and gargantuan cheese wheel-lifting. The production of cheese is a complex process, demanding real understanding and with very little financial reward. It’s a labour of love and that was part of the attraction for Matt. As well as being drawn to the science involved in cheese production and the sense of keeping an historical process alive, Matt felt a connection with the people in the industry – those who were in it for the love of cheese.
There are many of us who love cheese, and this is a great reminder that the huge range we now enjoy is down to people like Matt and the other 15 contestants of Champion des Fromagers de France, who devote their lives to cheese and bring their expertise to the general public. Matt has spent the last year dedicated to understanding every kind of cheese available in France (would you know the name of the cheese that comes wrapped in chestnut leaves?), breaking down language barriers and working right from the bottom of the ladder (with the goats) to where he is today. And, like his fellow cheesemongers, it’s all to bring us the best quality cheese.
So if you are a turophile (oh yes), get a load of the winning cheeseboard (top): 25 cheeses from France, Britain and Italy, all deliciously displayed – some elegantly carved into moon shapes, giving the whole piece a slightly space-age feel. Just looking at this picture has me reaching for the chutney and crackers.
Matt has a great post on his blog The Cheese And I on how to utilise your local cheesemongers – they know a lot more than the staff in Sainsbury’s.