CHRISTIAN JANIER: CHEESEMAKER
As part of our blog, we have decided to present a number of products for which particular French regions are known. When we talk about gastronomy in France, the first two words that spring to mind are wine and cheese.
We are pleased to meet Christian Janier, a cheesemaker (Meilleur Ouvrier de France) in Lyon, who is continuing a family tradition founded five generations ago. What place does cheese have in our society and how does it influence gastronomy? We discussed all sorts of things when we met, and here we summarise our most important insights.
FROMAGERIE JANIER: FROM FATHER TO SON SINCE 1880
It was in 1880 that the Janier dynasty was born. Christian’s great-grandfather, Felix, brought Jura cheese to Lyon to sell it. This marked the start of a project that has grown from generation to generation. Today, around 160 different types of cheese are matured in the Janier cellars in Lyon. In any case, the Janier family’s journey into the world of cheese distribution has always been characterised by several guiding principles; tradition, heart and ethics. The Janier family has always remained true to its principles. It refines raw milk products, and even in the days when large-scale distribution was taking off in the 1960s – when most cheese refiners opted to redefine their goals to meet mass demand – the Janier family remained true to tradition, working on local products that respect nature and the terroir. In view of the established large retailers, recent years have shown that smaller labels are a guarantee of more respect for nature and that the Janiers’ choices would also spell commercial success.
CHEESEMAKING: LISTEN TO NATURE AND ENJOY THE DIVERSITY OF THE TERROIR
Listening to Christian Janier’s words about the production of cheese is at times extremely sensual and even erotic. We owe the sheer variety of cheeses to different climates and soils. Just as with wine, it is this important diversity that makes up the wealth of regional French produce, because it offers almost all conditions; temperate, oceanic, Mediterranean, alpine. As such, France boasts a range of products that is unrivalled by any other country. “Back when mass distribution was growing, people began to want to do everything. It’s just not appropriate to make goat’s cheese in Brittany,” explains Christian: “Goats naturally prefer higher ground, shrubs and hedges. They don’t graze like cows.” The secret of good cheese is to listen to and respect nature, and to know how to implement and respect a philosophy. This has been the Janier family’s credo for five generations.
Of course, Janier’s traditionally refined cheeses continue to feature heavily in the current range. Comté cheese and Jura are also known far and wide for their use in fondue franc-comtoise. As with wines, cheeses vary according to where they are made, giving the product a variety of flavours. In this respect, Christian Janier speaks of ‘sublimated diversity’. He also introduced us to the AOC Charolais, which, as its name suggests, is a goat cheese. In total, Janier matures cheeses of almost 160 different designations of origin. The majority of his clients are cheese merchants, who then sell to individuals and professionals in the catering industry. Export to foreign countries is also an important source of revenue for Janier. The European destinations are numerous, whether in Germany, Belgium or Italy. Janier even exports to Japan. Transport controls and refrigeration technology actually make it possible to cover large distances without any difficulties. For Japan, for example, the goods will be flown out in isothermal boxes on Tuesday and arrive at their destination on Friday.
THE ROLE OF CHEESE IN GASTRONOMY
Finally, we wanted to ask Christian how he sees the role of cheese in the restaurant world. His words are harsh in this respect. He finds it surprising that most restaurants don’t have the wherewithal to give fine cheeses the recognition they deserve on their menus. It is his view that many cooks don’t know how to work cheese properly. It is wrong to simply slap cheese onto a plate at often exorbitant prices. The cheeses a restaurant selects should also reflect the terroir in which they are served, with less of a focus on produce that is entirely unrelated to that restaurant. By way of example, he mentions Sébastien Bras in Laguiole, who succeeds in presenting a minimalist cheese platter with four regional yet exquisite cheeses. Just as foodies will enjoy game meat from the region, this gives them the chance to discover the charm of local cheeses – even if they don’t come labelled with some globally recognised designation of origin.