Marie Quatrehomme is the owner of four successful Parisian cheese shops: La Fromagerie Du Rendez-Vous, La Fromagerie D’Issy-Les-Moulineaux, La Fromagerie De L’Espérance, and La Maison Du Fromage. She is one of France’s most well-known—and perhaps most unlikely—cheese savants, a celebrated author, and one of the first cheese professionals to achieve both the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, France’s highest distinction for a craftsman, and Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, the highest distinction in France.
After an early career as an educator, Marie had planned on designing exams for young children as a licensed psychometrician. But in 1980, Marie and her husband, a long-time fromager, unexpectedly inherited the family business, a small shop that sold general grocery items including milk, yogurt, cream, and fromage blanc. Over the next few years, Marie and her husband expanded the shop’s modest offering of butter, eggs, and cheese into a more sophisticated cheese program. Marie’s children have since grown up and taken on responsibility of running the cheese shops with Marie.
Fifteen years later, Marie enrolled in the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF) competition, a three-day marathon in which competitors are challenged with grueling tasks in a bid to prove mastery in their craft. Marie was one of the first MOFs in the category of cheese and the first woman to be awarded the distinction.
Upon visiting Marie at La Maison Du Fromage for a short interview, we were invited upstairs for tea. In this Q&A, Marie shares her insights into the industry; you’ll find the highlights of our conversation below. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
TCT: If pasteurized cheese can be so delicious, why protect raw milk cheeses?
Marie Quatrehomme: French cheese is based on raw milk and must be based on raw milk. The problem has to do with having a standard of excellence. Cheese will be of higher or lower quality, but if you lower the standard for excellence, it will continue to drop. So it’s important to guard a very high standard of excellence and guard raw milk, especially.
TCT: How can Americans be taught to explore cheeses beyond Brie?
MQ: Do what I do for young children. You must start with a few different styles of cheese. It is important to start with cheese that is not sweet per se, but perhaps a little bit, as you would for an infant ready to try new things. That could be a creamy goat cheese or a Reblochon or a Saint Nectaire or a Gorgonzola—because the Roquefort is strong and often very salty—or Fourme d’Ambert. Serve a small morsel from just underneath the rind because there you have the force of the cheese, which we smell as well as the salt. It is the salt and the fat that are the vehicles of flavor.
I advise people to start with cheeses that tend towards sweet and creamy, then they will be ready to explore other cheeses.
The Cheese Twins: What is the path to being a cheesemonger?
MQ: It is always in the cheese shop. But we also have a school that is excellent for that. One half is apprenticeship in industry and the other half is in the classroom.
It is necessary to come work in France for at least 6 months. To understand cheese, you must know how to make it. One must put their hands on milk and on the curd to make a cheese—and then come to our cheese shops to work.
TCT: Which cheese makers have you been impressed by the most?
MQ: The most extraordinary production I have seen has been in Switzerland, the production of Etivaz. From the morning milking until the evening, when it is removed from its mold, it’s fabulous. The Swiss have succeeded in preserving a manner of production that is completely traditional, with copper vats over wood fires.
TCT: What do you prefer with cheese?
MQ: I prefer white wine because 95% of cheeses pair better with white wine than red wine, and a simple type of bread. Sometimes pâte de fruit to bring a bit of sweetness.
The problem with cheese is that it comes at the end of the meal, when one is no longer hungry. If you really want to taste cheese, it must be tasted as an apéritif. Or make a meal of the cheese and that is very good; the palate doesn’t have to compete with other flavors.
If Marie’s work interests you and if you’re looking for some extraordinary cheese recipes, check out Marie’s co-authored book, “Une irrésistible envie de fromage” (“An irresistible desire for cheese”).