Every time you walk into Willy Street Co-op, you may expect to find a great deal of products that are the treasured result of hard work by people living no more than 150 miles from where you stand. This is especially the case in our Cheese Department, where more than 80% of our sales are of Wisconsin cheeses. We are so inundated with cheese here in this state that you could go a very long time without eating any but those crafted in America’s Dairyland. While we highly recommend that you fully support and enjoy these local goods, I’m here today to ask you to try something from slightly further away.
Although cheese is so pivotal in French diets, they still export tons of cheese to countries in the EU and across the ocean to North America. French exports to the United States are dominated by the fermented grape libation, as wine continues to be make up more than 70% of France’s agricultural products shipped to us Yanks, but cheese exports grew over 20% three years ago, and are still trending upward.
This demand for French cheese in the U.S. works very well for larger producers and big brands that most of us recognize (think St. Andre, Port Salut, Fromager d’Affinois) who have the ability to mass-produce product and deal with the logistics of ocean crossing. This leaves us missing out on many of the definitive French cheeses, most of which never gets near salt-water (unless it’s in a vat of brine in the creamery). It was with this in mind that the FROMI Group was formed more than 40 years ago to work closely with these smaller producers and give them an outlet into export markets not normally available to them.
FROMI is a French company that operates out of an office in Strasbourg and a logistics center in Rungis. They are a family-owned company with 150 employees and do sales in 55 countries. Here, they operate out of New York City to serve those of us in the United States. With their French staff working closing with producers and suppliers, and the rest of the team spread out over the globe, FROMI believes they have a great model to support local (French) businesses with international sales, and they back it up with a deep and connected knowledge of each producer they represent.
Our dealings with FROMI have just begun, really. At the time of this writing, we’ve only had a small sampling of their products on the shelves for a handful of weeks. You may not have even noticed them! Here’s what to look for:
10-15-month-old Comte cured in Fort Saint Antoine in the Daubs region. An old World War II fort, it was converted many years ago into an aging facility for Comte. This cheese, from Marcel Petit, is some of the finest Comte we’ve tried, supple and warm, far gentler than its Swiss cousin, Gruyere.
Royal Faucon Brie and Camembert from Chavegrand Laiterie
The camembert is woodsy and mushroomy, the brie reminds us of buttered toast. Both excellent choices for the bloomy-rind lovers among us.
Petit Delice de Cremiers
Those of you familiar with the Delice de Bourgogne will love the new Petit Delice de Cremiers, 7-oz. wheels of triple-cream decadence wrapped in their own little wooden cases.
Brique du Nord
Brique du Nord, a fill-in for the recently banned French favorite, Mimolette. The FDA declared that Mimolette was too overrun by mites (a traditional part of its curing) to be sold in the U.S. Brique du Nord is a mite-less rinded cheese that will make your eyes go wide with the caramel-salty pop that it brings.
Roquefort blue sheep’s milk cheese from Papillon, one of the last small producers of Roquefort. Utilizing only the milk of Lacaune sheep, cheese is made and cured in the caves near Roquefort. This is the best Roquefort I’ve ever tasted.
Also of the blue ilk, we have Fourme d’Ambert, a spongy, soft, and meaty blue cheese from the Auvergne region. I can still close my eyes and remember the very first time I had this cheese and FROMI’s selection triggers that every time I cut it.
Gres de Vosges
Lastly, we’re carrying a washed-rind munster style cheese from Alsace called Gres de Vosges. Look for the fern leaf on the top of the cheese, and just go for it. You’ll love the earthy, warm, nuttiness and fresh milky flavor.
We look forward to serving you, so please stop by the Cheese departments for some sampling!