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

A weekend in Montreuil-sur-Mer with The Times

..Times journalist Carolyn Boyd spent a weekend in the Montreuil-sur-Mer area this month, visiting Maison 76, La Grenouillère, Le Crotoy, Saint-Valery, Le Clos des Capucins et Le Caveau.
« A Weekend in Montreuil-sur-Mer » was published in the Times, London, on 20th. October.
The Times (pdf)

"When it comes to a foodie weekend in France, there are certain things on most wish lists: markets, wine, cheese, Michelin stars if you can, some seafood if possible and something to take home (preferably more wine).
"So it is most convenient that the small town of Montreuil-sur-Mer has reinvented itself as “La Destination Gastronomique” and ticks every box." visits Montreuil-sur-Mer

Montreuil-sur-mer heerlijke stadje voor foodies
Dutch travel blog recently visited Montreuil.
Carole and Josée travelled to the Pas-de-Calais region from Amsterdam. Charmed by the town of Montreuil-sur-Mer and the surrounding area, they wrote of their favourite places to stay.
(In Dutch and German)

Girls’ Foodie Weekend

Susanna Scott, (left) who blogs as A Modern Mother , visited Montreuil-sur-Mer for the weekend with a couple of friends.

"Sometimes you just have to get away with the girlfriends. No kids, no dinners to prepare – just a little self-indulgence and delight. Our weekend trip to Montreuil-sur-Mer was long in the making. One of my friends had visited the Michelin-starred La Grenouillere and raved about it. Its chef, Alexandre Gauthier, is a bit of a rock star in the foodie world. He caught the eye of President Obama after serving him local Licques chicken at the Paris COP21 conference. Then in 2016 Gauthier was named France’s top chef by Gault et Millau Guide – in some circles this trendy guide is even more prestigious than Michelin.

My friend went on to say it wasn’t the pretentious and overrated “experience” you can get in some of the UK’s top restaurants (not naming names but seriously do you need to serve a meal with an iPod piping in the sound of crashing waves). Plus La Grenouillère is nearly half the price of somewhere like the Fat Duck (oops, I named names). Then I saw this video and just had to try it!

So yes we planned our weekend around a meal at La Grenouillère! In fact, Montreuil-sur-Mer has a reputation as “La Destination Gastronomique!”

There are lots of foodie shops in the main Square, an awesome Saturday market and very reasonable restaurants and bistros with top notch food. And if you tire of eating (is there such a thing?) you can explore Cote d’Opale. PLUS all of this is just under an hour from the crossings and the locals even seem to like English speakers (at least they tolerate them!). I started to wonder why I hadn’t visited Montreuil-sur-Mer before."

Une Symphonie Des Sens

Une Symphonie Des Sens Sunday, 6 May 2018
A Symphony Of The Senses was a festival of food, wine, music and vintage cars, presented by La Destination Gastronomique, in Montreuil-sur-Mer, on Sunday 6th May 2018.

Photos: © Christian Plard
All rights reserved. Download, reproduction and copying prohibited in all cases. "Fair Use" copying not allowed.

The Guides

An Insider's Guide to Montreuil-sur-Mer

As Montreuil locals « Les Montreuillois » we are frequently asked for recommendations: where to eat, drink and shop, what to do, see and hear.

So we decided to create a platform for exactly that, an online destination gastronomique, to help you discover the best of the foodie destination we are lucky enough to call home.

Montreuil en Bouche

Montreuil en Bouche Montreuil en Bouche was our inaugural event. It took place in Place du Général de Gaulle, Montreuil-sur-Mer on 22nd July 2017.

Photos: © Christian Plard
All rights reserved. Download, reproduction and copying prohibited in all cases. "Fair Use" copying not allowed.