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LIU YANG | Le Fromager de Pékin

Profil:

Titre original :Beijing Community: LocalCheese from Le Fromager de Pékin - Authentic, artisanal, award-winning and affordable

Auteur :Sim Sim Wissgott

 

(Authorized by City Weekend for this republication)

In a little shop tucked away in Xisanqi, Liu Yang and his team monitor their latest batch of cheeses. Inside the maturing room, shelves display amouth-watering array of ash-covered goat’s milk ‘pyramids’, plump Camembert sand perfectly-formed Tommes. Le Fromager de Pékin (The Beijing Cheesemaker) has been supplying Beijing gourmets with French artisanal cheese for seven years. Step inside and aromasto rival the most authentic provincial French fromagerie fill your nostrils.

 

Beijing Community: LocalCheese from Le Fromager de Pékin

The man behind the project is an unexpected figure: a tall and gangly Chinese man from Dongbei, a far cry from the image one might have of a French cheesemaker.

The story begins in 2001 when Liu Yang went to France to study management in Clermont-Ferrand and tasted his first ‘real’ cheese. “I ate a lot the first time,” he says with a chuckle. “I didn’t really know how to eat cheese, but with French friends I slowly began to appreciate cheese and wine and baguette.”

It wasn’t until he moved to Corsica and started watching and helping his neighbors, who were cheese makers, that he decided to make a career out of it however. Liu embarked on a cheese making course in Bastia and a year later in 2007, returned to China with equipment and cultures to set up his own shop.

Bienvenue!

“Every time I came home during my studies, I saw how the market for dairy products was changing: There were more and more cheeses but no artisanal cheese. So I thought it could be a niche market to promote a culture of cheese in China.”

Now, he and his team of seven—all of whom he trained from scratch—produce some 500 kilos of cheese per month, and they sell their products as far as Shenzhen, Guangzhou,and Shanghai.

The milk is sourced locally—about five tons of milk are needed to make 500 kilos of cheese—and they produce about 20 varieties, from goat’s milk Crottinsand Bûchettesto Liu’s own creations, such as the Beijing Grey Camembert with black truffle. 

 

‘People will come round’

Althoughcheese is not really part of the traditional Chinese diet, Liu never doubted that he would find clients. And he is adamant he would never make cheeses just to suit the Chinese palate.

“In the beginning, people advised me to make cheeses for Chinese tastes and I said no. You need to make real French artisanal cheese, and people will come round,” says Liu, who speaks French and English alongside his native Mandarin.“You have to insist on the quality of the product. I will never make a sweet cheese, I will never make a cheese with fruit.”

Molded and molded, ready to age

His bet has paid off. While his clientele was 90-percent expat in his first two years in business, he now claims to have more Chinese than foreign customers. This can be partly attributed to launching his products on Taobao.“I really appreciate the courage of Chinese consumers, they’re very open (to new tastes),” he says.It also helps that China introduced restrictions on artisanal raw milk cheeselast year—“for us, that’s good!” he smiles.

 

A Gamechanger

Top restaurants, like Temple Restaurant Beijing (TRB) and Capital M, now offer Le Fromager de Pékin’s cheeses on their menu.

“It has a high integrity and it’s manufactured locally rather than being mass-produced supermarket fare. It’s truly artisanal,” says Justus Jennings, who runs The Kitchen restaurant in Shenzhen and has long been a fan of Liu’s cheese. “It’s a handcrafted, handmade product … This is as good as you can get made locally,”he says, going as far as to call Liu a “gamechanger” and “driving force” who is setting the standard for other artisans in China.

The French community, potentially Mr. Liu’s harshest critics, are also fans of a product that reminds them of home. “It’s totally the type of cheese we have in France…the look, the texture, the taste, the smell are all excellent” says Shanghai-based distributor Florian Barrau, whose clients are mostly French.“People are tired of paying unjustified prices for imported cheese. With Le Fromager de Pékin, you have prices that are still reasonable while having realknow-how behind each product.”

Prices rangefrom RMB25 for a 125g chunk of ricotta to RMB240 for a one-kilo Tomme. Compared to imported cheeses, which can easily reach ¥70 or more for a small wedge, it’s a bargain. And customers appreciate the effort that has gone into making the product. “He uses reliable raw materials… and the cheese is made skillfully by hand, it’s a carefully crafted product. When you taste the cheese, the flavoris very authentic,” says 26-year-old Beijinger Sarah.

 

A Chinese Touch

Mr. Liu has also injected some Chinese flavor into his cheese, creating a Bleu de Pékin that won a Gold Medal at the International Cheese competition in Tours, France last July. His yak milk cheese, made in Shangri-La but ripened in Beijing, was also awarded a prize.

Le Fromager’s selection is mostly soft and semi-soft cheeses: These are what Liu first learned to make in Corsica and also what Chinese customers favor. Molds come from France and cultures are delivered four times a year to ensure a truly authentic product. But all the cheese—except for the yak milk variety—is madein the small set-up in Xisanqi.

Outside the unassuming shopfront, a simple chalkboard sign just reads “Fromagerie” and “布乐”– ‘bule’being the Chinese approximation of the French word ‘bleu’, that tangy creamy cheese with blue-grey veins. Inside, workers in white aprons and rubber boots go about their tasks, heating the fresh milk to the right temperature, molding the thickened curd into shape and ferrying the finished products to the maturing room.

Some of the five tons of milk they culture every month

 

Mr. Liu sayshe already had 100 clients before he even opened his first shop in 2009, thanks to his connections in the French community, on whom he tested his creations. But cheese will surely grow in popularity among Chinese consumers as they increasingly travel abroad and sample new foods.

“The Chinese are opening themselves more and more to these new flavors … it will still take some time but they are increasingly looking for quality. It’s a kind of lifestyle, a trendy accompaniment to go with wine,” says Barrau.

In the meantime, Liu will keep experimenting in his kitchen and producing new types when his French clients request them. “I make what my friends order,” he laughs.

Source : City Weekend Beijing: http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/beijing/article/beijing-community-local-ch... (le 22 avril 2016)