On the gourmet table, this iconic Savoyard cheese now plays an important role, inextricably linked to the being of Jean Sulpice; Beaufort is essential to his terroir and his history, the tangible proof of an ancestral heritage. How did the traditional cheese trolley become a wheel at the Auberge du Père Bise? Back from the pastures with Alicia Poupeney (Head Waitress of the restaurant Jean Sulpice) and the double starred Chef. They tell us about it.

Alicia remembers a place difficult to access, that must be earned. A wild journey for curious hikers.

We are in July, practically 7 a.m., we are the Team Sulpice in a slow-moving car; as a precaution on an abrupt bumpy road. Beyond Pralognan la Vanoise a few mounts from Val Thorens, we are amazed by the dawning lights, those that demarcate the steep inclines. The pasture is in the shadows, waiting to be bathed in the warmth of the morning light. The impressionist paintings offered by nature succeed each other as we turn our heads from left to right. On one side, a few strokes of pointillism: the tarines stroll in the distance - on a green slope. The door opens and a colossus gets out of the place. His thick beard enhances his smile as he sees us, from his frank friendliness results a sincere welcome. Once the formalities are over, we all gather in a room where he is cooking the milk from this morning’s milking at 6 a.m. in a huge copper cauldron.”.

He looks at us and explains the unexplainable,” Jean continues.

He doesn’t understand the striking difference in taste between this year’s Beaufort and last year’s. The large amount of scientific tests he carried out doesn’t explain it. With these deadlock findings, Gaël thinks that even though this contrast in taste is real, the reason for this variation is more complex, perhaps linked to emotions, moods; something that cannot be detected under a microscope. So he plays music during the day, his cows evolve at the rhythm of classical music; along with the symphonies, serenades and other requiems - they appear more relaxed. An opera of peaks, where Gaël knows the importance of a serene atmosphere. A sound influence on all beings living in the pasture.”.

Alicia exclaims: “And he explains all that while working! While making his Beaufort, collecting as much curds as possible in his cauldron. His moves are precise, meticulous, he doesn’t waste a single second and never does it twice. He uses his hands and teeths, biting the gauze to collect the curds necessary to the making of his cheese. Watching him is impressive. Gaël didn’t grow up in this agricultural environment though, he had plenty of options, life choices, but he chose this path. He tells us that from May to September he is up here, his day starts at 3 a.m. with milking of the cows, where he collects the milk. His day usually ends - if there are no difficulties - at 9 p.m., at which time he can start to relax. In Ritord for 6 months, non-stop, without a day off. He lives and breathes only for this moment, it is part of him. Snow announces the end. As soon as it comes, he leaves the pasture.”.

And no internet connection up there! Or very little. If you want a decent connection, you can try to stand on a chair along the wall to get a signal on your phone. Outside, same story as you are taking a tour of the house! In reality, this lack of connection is not an issue, on the contrary, it strengthens the interest, the goal of not missing the creation of Beaufort.” the Chef notes. “And you don’t have time to waste. Because making the best cheese possible has to be earned.”he adds. “The season can never be taken for granted, you have to bring a huge amount of energy everyday to face and overcome the potential issues, you have to fight. The tractor that does not start, the neighbouring pastures or even shepherds that need help, one or multiple cows to take care of… the list can go on…”.

Yes, he also has to be kind of a veterinarian,” Alicia observes. “The pasture being too difficult to access, he knows that he will not always be able to count on a doctor in the middle of the night. He knows how to take care of his cows and help them give birth.”.

The spirit of pastures

He tells himself that the pasture of Ritord is one of the best to make Beaufort.” Jean Sulpice explains. “What surprised me about this meeting is that he does not only talk about his product, he also tells us about the pasture, his environment, his animals. Of a massive and rough appearance, Gaël feels a true sensitivity, a delicacy when he puts into words his daily life. He is not only here to make cheese, it would be reductive to think so. Every step counts, including those outside where Gaël works hand in hand with the shepherds. Together they see to it that the herd is fed the best grass, by moving them to the right place, at the right time. It is a true harmony between the animals, the humans and nature. Like a big family, extremely complementary.”.

Alicia highlights, “They are totally dependent on nature for that matter, every day is a new adventure, no one knows what today will be made of. In this agricultural branch, men do not try to control the environment in order to obtain constancy in the product, a regularity in the taste. They accept to take on a smaller role in the face of nature, they listen to it, and adapt to its moods. They cannot pretend to dominate it, they have to let her loose and organise their work around to obtain uniqueness.””.

Back to the essential

“This year at the gourmet table we decided to do without the cheese trolley. The Chef wanted to leave opulence behind to come back to simplicity.”

Alicia clarifies, “the offer of about twenty products on a tray on wheels was incoherent with the culinary discoveries route.”.

Jean Sulpice carries on, “I am Savoyard and my grandfather used to tell me about this cheese. He would tell me that Beaufort is good for your health, is good for your bones! It is the prince of Gruyères and it is undeniably a pasture cheese. Around the Ritord the cows follow the blossoming and feed themselves according to the seasons. Beaufort holds in its texture and taste a story; and to free its subtle variations, he needs to be confronted to a mountainous environment either benevolent, or hostile.”.

Not a while ago a client approached and told me: “Chef, you made me eat blue cheese when I usually don’t like it, and I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much!” This is exactly what I want my cuisine to favour, surprise, the joy of discovery. Until now, it was not possible with the trolley.”.

He concludes, “the choice of a single Beaufort cheese at my table is evident because there is time to tell its story and the atypical journey of Gaël Machet, its producer. I am not looking to demonstrate and show off my terroir, I simply want to highlight it, and introduce an exceptional Beaufort, a piece of heritage that is at the root of our Savoies.”

Rédaction : Norman Giry | Photographie : Franck Juery,
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