My title isn’t honest because I didn’t drive to the border of Switzerland and France. My companion was the one who did.
Everything else I write here is one-hundred percent true and in no way an exaggeration.
If you’re looking for a real French experience to cheese, skip Paris. The one plate of cheese worth spending an afternoon driving to and from France isn’t there. It’s in Alsace, the northeastern region of France, dominated by villages dotted with sprawling flower boxes on every corner.
This movie-set like of a place is where you’ll find the best cheese house in the world: Fromagerie Antony.
Fromagerie Antony boasts of cellars where top cheeses are matured to perfection since it opened for guests in 1986. You see, not all cheeses are the same. The way you age them to achieve the right taste is a delicate art.
In these terms, Bernard Antony, who started the fromagerie, and his son, Jean-François are the Mozart and the van Beethoven of this industry.
Fromagerie Antony provides cheese to 19 Michelin star restaurants around the globe. The Archduke of Austria Otto von Habsburg and Prince Albert of Monaco are just some of the notable guests who visit the place.
Bernard also considers Mikhail Gorbachev, the former general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, a favorite client.
Feels like home
The cheese shop where they welcome guests with reservations is homey and quaint, despite all this prestige. It’s that classic country house you’d see in storybooks as a kid. The only difference is that this guest area is only a front for an entire expanse of cheese cellars and a helipad at the back as potatoes and other supplies come in and out via chopper. Sorry if there are illusions out there that I shattered.
There is still no reason to be intimidated by this — no need to dress up, even. You need to call beforehand to make a reservation for a tasting session. The price shocked me because it’s only 18EUR (around 1,000 PHP) and this includes a basket of freshly-baked bread and a plate with a selection of nine kinds of cheese.
On an off-peak hour, there is a chance that Jean-Francois himself will be the one to serve you, as he did us. First, he led us to a small, cavernous room with only three tables. The scent of cheese was thick and intoxicating. Be prepared to smell like a cheddar round when you’re done eating.
Books on cheese, photographs of magazine features, along with various mementos from the conventions, events, and occasions that the fromagerie has catered fill the shelves in the room. I spotted Bernard’s staff ID card for the World Economic Forum.
Jean-François then took our beverage orders. After fulfilling this request, he then came with the cheese plates and a handwritten card indicating the names of the cheeses.
He told us that the best way to taste the cheese is to start from the six-o’clock position, working your way clockwise from there. You take your palette on a journey from mild cheeses slowly to strong-flavored varieties when you do so.
I took a bite of each cheese first before I settled on finishing the ones I favored the most.
One of my favorites was the one found at the 12-noon position. It’s a brie so rich and creamy that I’m frustrated that words can’t quite translate taste.
The mature hard cheeses positioned at one o’ clock, three o’clock and five o’clock were robust and reminded me of salted pork. These selections will make you reach for a glass of wine. Fromagerie Antony, of course, has only but a wine list that will make any connoisseur cry with joy.
Take it with you
After your tasting session, you may opt to buy some cheese for you to take home. Sadly, none of them could survive a 16-hour plane ride back to the Philippines in my luggage.
Then again, this gives me a reason to go back. Perhaps I could do the “In Celebration of Cheese” course which goes on for about four hours and is at 75 EUR (around 4,200 PHP) per head. Combined with wine and dessert, you need to set aside 160 EUR (around 9,000 PHP).
Just a warning though, Fromagerie Antony’s treat of bringing you only the best cheese comes at a high cost. Every other cheese you taste after visiting the place will be ruined forever.