The Opal Coast: A Land of Cheeses

Recently-established Caseus, Montreuil's cheese-maker, gives pride of place to a wide range of cheeses from the Opal Coast. We discover their history…
When we push the door of Caseus, on the Grand-Place of Montreuil sur Mer, it’s obvious that we are in France, the country of 250 cheeses. This outstanding shop also stocks Dutch, English and Swiss cheeses. (Owner Ludivine Lefrançois, searches far and wide) There are cheeses from the local Opal Coast, ranging from Fruges to the coast beyond Boulogne. You can find Sire de Créquy, Tomme de Raoul, Sablé de Wissant, Pavé de Montreuil, Ecume de Wimereux, Fleur de Fruges, Fruité du Boulonnais, Coeur Hesdinois, Chti à la Bière and Dôme du Boulonnais. "In an average shopper’s basket, there are at least one or two cheeses from this region," says Ludivine. The English love them, the Belgians too, basically all foreigners. "One or two we make specially for ceremonies or family celebrations." However, Ludivine Lefrançois has one regret: customers are not curious about their history.

Ludivine Lefrançois and her team at Caseus

Ludivine Lefrançois knows what she is talking about. She made these local cheeses when she worked with her parents, Alfred and Marie-Claire Henguelle, in Créquy, a village near Fruges. Today they are produced by her brother Damien and sister, Alice.
But what are the origins of these cheeses? Historically, the Opal Coast and its hinterland were not native cheese producers like Auvergne or Normandy. Camembert, one of France’s most famous, was first made in the 18th century. Tomme de Savoie is cited in texts from the 16th century!
Opal Coast cheeses first appeared in the 1980s and 1990s, for mostly financial reasons. "This was the era of milk quotas," explains Alice at Sire de Créquy's farm. "It was necessary to create added value to the milk rather than selling it or throwing it away, as long as the farm was of medium size, between 50 and 60 hectares ". The Bernard brothers' artisanal dairy Sainte-Godeleine (Sablé de Wissant, Ecume de Wimereux, Fleur d'Audresselles), in Wierre Effroy, also became active in the 1980s. Antoine and Joachim Bernard now employ around thirty people and have just inaugurated a new, larger building.
In Créquy, Alfred and Marie-Claire Henguelle trained with producers in Munster, Alsace. The first cheese they created in Créquy is the Sire de Créquy, reminiscent of Alsatian cheese. "A cheese takes a long time to create," explains Alice. You have to carry out manufacturing tests, refine it, check that you have the right result, sometimes trial modifications, check how it reacts in summer and winter. It takes a year to achieve the right result. ” Her brother followed into the business after completing agricultural school and training.

l’Ecume de Wimereux

Alice, in addition to helping with cheese making, trials the yogurts that the farm produces. Yoghurts are developed with taste variations depending on season: lemon thyme, fresh mint, ginger, rose, cinnamon. Not all trials are successful. "I tried a nettle yogurt. Nettle soup is ubiquitous and so good. In yogurt, it was a disaster. I also tested violets but it is difficult to find the flowers in the volume needed".
Today, the development of the company is all about marketing. Caseus is an effective reseller. There are other cheese factories in the region that come to buy from the farm. For them, ripening is carried out on the farm in natural cellars. Caseus work with wholesalers in Belgium and Luxembourg, with recent interest from Germany. On the Ile de France, the farm works with La Ruche, who target Franprix stores seeking to enhance their range of farm products. In Paris, the Sire de Créquy farm has pooled deliveries with Chateauneuf Meat, a farm located in Audincthun, which has developed impressive meat sales in the capital.
As Alice points out, "City dwellers have become more aware of what they eat than in the countryside." In Montreuil sur Mer, Caseus welcomes everyone!
Jean-Paul Leroy