French Females of Fromage offer wise words for International Women’s Day 2024

For International Women’s Day we look across the Channel to four inspirational women who are responsible for making, training, presenting and promoting the wonderful world of French cheese.

Back in November, our co-founder Mex Ibrahim attended a fun and beautifully put together immersive dinner experience at the O’Meara Theatre in London. Guests at the six course dinner were entertained by actors representing the characteristics of six very different French cheeses: Époisses, Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage, Neufchâtel, Saint-Nectaire, Brillat-Savarin, and Bleu d’Auvergne.  It was a fantastic way to learn more about some of the less well-known cheeses and to gain an understanding of the importance of traditions, terroir and production methods when it comes to creating this universally loved product.

French Women in the Cheese Industry

Laëtitia Gaborit - French Cheesemaker

In France, a dedication to perfecting skills is celebrated with “Un des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France”, a competition that was founded in 1924 and takes place every four years with regularly updates to include modern day trades and fields. Those wishing to achieve the accolade must spend several years training in order to create a masterpiece from the materials given to them on the day of the competition. In 2007, Laëtitia Gaborit was named one of the best cheesemongers aged just 28 with her innovative and impressive cheese display.

Laëtitia began a career in cheese with a passion inspired by her father, a cheese dairy worker, who would take her to visit producers during the school holidays. She took on the challenge of the “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” in her twenties to discover where she stood professionally. Laëtitia recalls her planning: “I prepared for the competition with a lot of tenacity, desire and, above all, passion. It wasn’t easy, I had moments of doubt and financially it was quite challenging, but you always have to keep moving forward.”

Now a cheese trainer, Laëtitia also has her own range of dairy products and cheeses, which brings together everything that she loves about cheese, her past experiences and showcases the richness of her country’s terroir and producers.

Young French Women in the Cheese Industry

Pauline Guillot Cheesemaking

At just 23 years old, Pauline Guilott is currently in the process of setting up a dairy on the family farm. There she produces AOP Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage from a herd of 35 dairy cows. Having worked on the farm from an early age, Pauline wanted to manage the process from farm to fork and says that being able to transform the milk to a cheese that sets in five hours is nothing less than magical.

Pauline Guillot - Cheesemaker

Pauline says that being a woman in the industry means that there is extra pressure to produce high quality products and an additional need for women to prove that they can handle the physical demands at all stages of the production – a typical working day starts at 5.30am with plenty of manual work required. She believes that women bring rigour and organisation to the production process as well as a different perspective to the male dominated traditions. Her advice for future female producers, “Be passionate about what you do, don’t listen to criticism and trust yourself. Remember, we are just as capable as men we just need different approaches.”

Retraining to become a cheesemonger

Charlène Bouy, founder of Fromagerie Charlicot left a successful career in Mergers and Acquisitions in Paris before retraining to become a cheesemonger. Having left the company her friends encouraged her to pursue her passion in cheese and she’s never looked back, citing her former colleagues and the salary as the only elements of the finance job she misses.

Charlicot cheese platter with Mimosa

When it comes to the qualities that women bring to the industry, Charlène, whose beautiful platters you can see on her Instagram Fromagerie Charlicot, suggests, “Women bring a more marked sensitivity to aesthetics, particularly with cheese platters – the famous “touche féminine”. Charlène particularly respects the work of Virginie Boularouah, a well-known Parisian cheese affineur who is dedicated to taking the cheese from the producer, then nurturing, ripening and ageing the cheese until it achieves its depth of aroma, taste and texture.

As a woman, Charlène has never had any problems integrating into the cheese industry, saying “I have a bad temper which helps a lot… there have been some rather rude jokes and salespeople asking me for the “boss” but that makes me laugh more than anything.”

Marie-Laure Martin

The world of cheese is not just about producers and cheesemongers, CNIEL’s director of international communications Marie-Laure Martin followed her passion for working in agricultural products by studying food sociology. She worked briefly in the meat sector and then in fruit and vegetables before joining CNIEL to develop the international promotion of French dairy products.

For Marie-Laure, it’s the human dimension of her job that appeals the most, and she is proud to represent the men and women dedicated to producing such high quality food. There is no such thing as a typical day as her time is divided between internal meetings, meetings with agencies around the world, creative brainstorming, administrative and reporting tasks and travelling to different territories. Her advice to anyone considering a job in the dairy industry is to “do something that you care about.”

French Females of Fromage

The world of cheese is constantly developing and Laëtitia, Charlène, Pauline and Marie-Laure all share a commitment to sharing its qualities, traditions and craft to ensure its legacy for generations to come. When you next bite in that piece of creamy yet powerful French cheese, you can appreciate the dedication, passion and determination that these women are bringing to their craft.

You may also like the following features Lily Morris wins Young Cheesemonger of The Year 2023 in The World Cheese Awards, Championing women in the cheese industry and The BBC Food and Farming Awards 2023: We celebrate the Winners.

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