Meeting with Christophe, Vice-Champion of the World Cheesemaker and lover of wines from elsewhere, who presents his cheeses in the shop like jewels and offers for sale wines from Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, Romania, as well as sakes . Portrait of a hedonist of (good) taste.
After learning from the greatest (Androuet in London, Fromagerie Fermier in Tokyo, Laurent Dubois in Paris…), Christophe opened his shop in December 2018 in Bayonne, on his native land. We wanted to know more about his job and his explorer side.
WINE EXPLORERS : What led you to the profession of cheesemaker?
Christophe Gonzalez : I come from a fairly general school background, with a business school diploma specializing in marketing and management. It was during my internships, especially in London, that I liked the contact with other civilizations. I met many Japanese and Koreans, for whom I have always had great culinary and cultural admiration. Bread, wine and cheese are for me the three founding elements of French gastronomy. I naturally chose my favorite: cheese, in order to offer my Asian friends the best cheese in France, by becoming an expert in my field.
W.E. : What do you love most about this job?
C.G. : Meeting people! The friendships that I have created and that I continue to maintain thanks to the world of cheese are very numerous. Like our meeting. There is nothing more beautiful than exchanging with passionate people who share beautiful values.
W.E. : Your best memory of cheese tasting?
C.G. : The Langres. Its tasting on the terrace of the restaurant adjoining the cheese dairy for which I worked in London remains to this day my most beautiful memory, because it is the one that has conditioned a large part of my professional career. That day, I gave Langres – my favorite cheese of the moment – a tasting to a passing Japanese businessman. One thing leading to another, I kept in touch with this person who, when I decided to do a WHV in Tokyo for a year, showed me all of “his” Japan. He is also a great wine enthusiast, and it is thanks to him that I put my nose a little more in the glass.
W.E. : How did you get the idea to get into cheese creations?
C.G. : My stay in Tokyo taught me meticulousness, rigor and a part of creativity. Then this creativity was increased tenfold on my return to France, when I had the opportunity to work for Laurent Dubois, Meilleur Ouvrier de France and pioneer in the enhancement of cheese. It sublimates the visual aspect of the product, as Christophe Michalak does with pastry. With the growing media coverage of cooking and then baking shows, cheese needed to get out of its somewhat old-fashioned image of “smelly cheese”. Thus, I decided to perpetuate this working method in my shop which consists of transforming cheeses, like small pastries but in a salty version. This requires a lot more work and know-how than in a traditional cheese dairy, but the clientele is in real demand. As proof, cheese creations now represent a quarter of our turnover.
W.E. : What are your “star” cheese creations?
C.G. : Steve Jobs described creativity very well by saying that there is nothing extraordinary about being creative, you just have to put different things together and make a new product out of them. The hardest part is to keep it simple and good. After many attempts (and many failures!), I now offer creations with unique textures and flavors. Like a Bleu d’Auvergne with a soft sponge cake with spices, made by my pastry chef friend Guillaume Vella. A rock of fresh goat cheese, coated with candied lemon and verbena.
Or a Basque forest, with a base of Basque sheep's milk camembert, on which are placed slightly kirsch morello cherries.
W.E. : Are “cheese and wine” obvious pairings at the table in your opinion?
C.G. : Not being a wine connoisseur, I do not always attach great importance to pairings in my job. Unlike the sommelier, whom I consider to be a true wine artist, a poet of taste who will know how to seduce you and take you on a journey through harmony. Also, the “cheese and wine” associations are for me more a cultural fact than a matter of taste. Even if I must admit that certain cheeses and certain wines combine better "chemically speaking" than others. A bit like chocolate goes well with milk.
W.E. : Why did you choose to offer wines from around the world in your shop?
C.G. : Because I love discovery, travel, and the Wine Explorers story behind its wines. The sharing. The human. The singularity. So many values that I share and which make the wines of the world so attractive in my opinion. This demonstrates a certain open-mindedness, as a Frenchman (and cheesemaker) to offer Czech, Romanian or even Bosnian wines! I find the approach fascinating! And this allows us to always recall a bit of history, which tends to explain and say that neither wine nor cheese are originally “French” products, but rather international and multicultural products. Have you ever tasted these wines? They are just amazing in terms of taste!
The wines of the world offered at the Christophe Fromager boutique:
- Mjesecar 2017 from Brkić winery (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
- Silver Pálava 2019 from Sonberk wine (Czech republic)
- Perfect Simplu Fetească Neagră 2019 from Catleya winery (Romania)
- Japanese sakes from Brasserie Chevalier
For more information on the cheese dairy: Christophe Fromager