“I am just a simple servant to the cheese”, says Bernard Antony about himself in his usual humble manner – quite an understatement, since the 72 year old ‘Affineur de Fromages’ is a master of his trade who is highly valued all over the world. His customer list reads like the who is who of the international award-winning cuisine. 20 three star chefs and 27 two star chefs treat their guests to delicacies from the ‘Sundgäuer Chäschaller’ (which means Sundgau cheese cellar’ – Sundgau referring to the local region). But also the British Queen, Prince Albert of Monaco, state presidents and connois- seurs from all over the world love the speciality cheeses made by Bernard Antony. More than
100 soft and hard cheeses mature in seven cellars for a period of between 14 days to four and a half years before being shipped – protected in special packaging – first to Paris and then from there via plane to the Emirates, Honk Kong, Tokyo, London or many other parts of the world.
Anyone who wishes to meet the maître personally must travel to the quaint Alsace town of Vieux-Ferrette. There, in the Rue de la Mon- tagne, only 30 minutes by car from the Swiss city of Basel, is the home of Bernard Antony. In the old farm house of his parents, which he has restored with great love to detail and converted into a cheese paradise, Bernard Antony had grown up as a child. Today, when you enter the small sales room of his ‘Sundgäuer Chäschaller’ you will also meet Jean Franςois Antony, master cheesemaker and equally passionate for excellent cheese as his father Bernard. Most charming, Jean Franςois Antony gives expert advice to his customers, many of which travel several hundreds of kilometres to buy their cheese del- icacies here. Once we arrive, Jean Franςois Antony guides us into the
‘Weinstube’, a cosy room where guests can taste cheese and the matching wines upon prior booking. “Please sit down and make yourselves comfortable, I will tell my father that you are here”, he says and disappears. Shortly afterwards, Bernard Antony enters the room, a wide smile on his face, and together we dive into the world of cheese culture, getting to know more about the coincidences that led to the rise of a travelling grocery trader to become one of the world’s best Maître de Fromage. The story starts in 1979 when he met Maître Pierre Androuët, at the time the major guru of the ‘white gold’.
ard Antony refers to Pierre Androuët as ‘his master’ and his words reflect admiration, almost reverence for the man who told him the secrets of cheese maturing. When you refer to Bernard Antony as the ‘cheese guru’, however, he denies: “Only Pierre Androuët deserves this title, I am his disciple and simple servant to the cheese”, says Bernard full of humility.
Bernard Antony compares his work to that of an artist. “A good affineur composes the cheese like a painter his painting. He senses and smells when the cheese has reached its perfect degree of maturity. Depending on the type of cheese, this may take up to four and a half years. Just like with many good thinks, patience is key”, says Bernard Antony and laughs with an impish smile. In Maître Antony’s shop you will only get cheese that is ‘mature’, meaning ready to eat. Therefore, depending on the type of cheese, it might take quite some time until new supply is available. “A high-quality product needs its time; if you work with good cheese, you will learn that patience is a virtue”, Bernard Antony explains.
“Enough theory now”, Jean Franςois Antony interrupts the conversation and offers us a ‘Tour de France in cheese form’. Of course, we cannot resist such an invitation and within a few minutes Jean Franςois is back with two plates, fresh farmhouse bread and a fruity white wine. He also brings a hand-written cheese map which he uses to explain the various delicacies we will taste. “Bon appétit” and he is gone again, as he needs to attend to a long queue of customers waiting for him in the shop. Visibly pleased with our enthusiasm for his products, Bernard Antony tells us more about his philosophy.
As a result, the maître has a lot of friends – “many of them for more than 30 years” – from whom he buys only raw milk cheese which he matures under his own hands. Whenever possible, Bernard Antony visits his friends personally. Their – as he calls them – genuine and authentic cheeses will then mature in his cellars into unique delicacies – strictly separated by milk types, “because a goat cheese should never lie next to a cow milk cheese”.
Bernard Antony also pays a lot of attention to how the animals are kept which produce the milk for his cheeses. “I stay away from large-volume operations. The way how the animals are fed and kept plays a very important part in the quality of the milk and thus of the cheeses”, the master explains his principle. When we ask Bernard Antony about his secrets of the alchemy of affinage, he gives us a mischievous smile and says: “Each of my seven cellars has a very particular climate. Apart from the right storage, it is dedication and passion, the experience of more than 30 years and a great deal of feeling.” We see: Maître Antony will not reveal his secret to us, which, of course, we fully understand.