Erica Hicks - Fromagère - and trader at Dinan and Dinard markets, makes the genuine British variety - at Chapelle Cheddar in Treverien just south of Dinan in Brittany
Online Magazine Article March 2007
Well who would have thought Cheddar Cheese could be made and sold in France! This versatile, tangy and so English cheese is furthermore made by an Australian lady who has been resident in France for seventeen years. The Cheese is also "bio" - biological production - and the Fromagerie is described as fromagerie artisanale cerfifié AB.
Erica Hicks took the courageous decision to embark on the cheese making business two years ago and admits that if she had known in advance of the complications involved, she would never have had the courage to embark on the project. However Erica enjoys her cheeses and the wines that accompany them and thought that this would be a business that would tie in with her family commitments as she has two children.
Firstly, she had to obtain a Cheese maker's qualification which meant studying in Rennes at Agricultural College for some time. Once officially recognised as an Artisan Fromagère, which was the qualification necessary to gain her licence to manufacture the cheese, she had to go about constructing the dairy itself and purchasing equipment. This involved laying out money and hoping that the cheese production would be given the official go ahead.
The actual building was constructed by a builder with Erica's help with the foundations. She undertook the mammoth task of the tiling herself and courageously worked on the cheese store which is underground below the dairy and dug out of rock which is necessary as this cheese has to be stored at ground temperature.
Erica went into her cheese production in a thorough way and visited England to study the Cheddar Cheese making process and she follows the traditional method of making the cheese exactly.
The next stage in getting the enterprise underway in France involved officialdom Every aspect of the operation was scrutinised - not just from a Health and Safety and Hygiene aspect but also from the quality side and whether the cheese could be considered cheese! Even the labels were inspected to see if they complied with the law.
Food production is so strictly regulated in France that even the Fraud Squad were involved to make sure that standards were met. It was to Erica's great relief that Chapelle Cheddar passed the tests.
The cheese production is a skilled an exacting process. The organic milk which Erica buys from farms where she has herself inspected the cattle, is cooked and the curds and whey are transferred from the vat to the cheddaring table -pictured left. The curds are cut, turned and piled at regular intervals. Thus pressed, they go from a scrambled egg consistency to cooked chicken breast. The pressed curd is then milled by hand through a peg mill.
After salting, the Cheddar chips are punched into 8 kg. moulds and left to press for three days. The bandaged and labelled cheese is then stored in the underground cheese store.
Apart from Cheddar, Erica also supplies smoked cheese and Tomme which is a French hard cheese. Surprisingly the customers for the Cheddar are mostly French people. Erica puts this down to their being familiar with unpasturised cheese with a rind.
Erica has made great efforts to present her business professionally and from her market stall to the presentation and packaging of the cheese all is professional and eye catching.
Well, what did Erica do prior to going into child and cheese production? On arriving in France, she went to a supermarket which was then the French branch of the Pound Shop, so well known in Jersey, and asked for a tin of baked beans. Observing the confusion that the assistants were experiencing, she asked them if they wanted a hand. Eleven years later she was still there in a management position which involved travelling between the three stores - which if I remember correctly - were called something like Dix Francs?
Erica markets the cheese directly and also has a stand at the Thursday morning market in Dinan and the Tinténiac market on Friday morning. She also distributes through organic supermarkets and farm shops and the Fromargerie is open on Wednesday evening between 17h and 19h. La Chapelle is situated not far from the town of Evran which is south of Dinan. Dinan is 15 minutes away as is the ancient town of Combourg. Saint Malo and Dinard are 30 minutes away to the north and Rennes is 30 minutes away in another direction.
Tel 02 99 45 62 11 www.chapellecheddar.com