Asia Cheese Hong Kong

Talking Cheese in Asia: Who is Myriam Bilbault?

In the latest Talking Cheese in Asia series, cheese specialist Ivy Ng talks with a young and no-nonsense French cheesemonger about her ambition for Hong Kong and her determination to persuade the locals' taste buds to appreciate the diversity of French artisan cheese.

La Crèmerie, Swatow Street, Wanchai, Hong Kong

Riding on the success of its wine bars in Paris, Hong Kong and Singapore, French-owned and operated group, Le Quinze Vins (“LQV”), opened the much-anticipated artisanal French cheese specialist, La Crèmerie, on Swatow Street, Wanchai, Hong Kong, in July 2017.

With a compact temperature and humidity-controlled “cave” (aging cellar) at the back of the shop, La Crèmerie is able to offer to cheese connoisseurs a selection of cheeses, especially the soft-ripened and goat cheeses, at various stages of “affinage” (maturity). LQV has since opened another one-stop French gourmet concept on Caine Road in the Mid-Levels district, bringing French meat, cheese, more than 1,000 references of wine and other gourmet products to this rejuvenated residential neighbourhood, popular amongst the young legal and financial professionals in Hong Kong’s CBD. The space features a wine bar in LQV’s signature contemporary minimalist design that opened in April this year.  The group has recently introduced an online shop featuring their most popular products, available for delivery or collection at the shop). (www.lqv-group.com)

Myriam cherishing her recognised success in 2013

Born in 1990, Myriam Bilbault lived the first years of her life on the island of Réunion before returning to France when she was 12. Her father had taken over a farm in Limousin in 2004 and the family then settled in this region in the centre of France. Myriam pursued hospitality studies in Chamalières, near Clermont-Ferrand. Having completed a few internships at different gastronomic restaurants, she decided to return to her first passion – cheese. Having seen how little recognition is received for the extraordinary amount of hard work required on the farm, she went in search of an internship at a cheesemonger. In 2011, she started her internship at the family-owned cheesemonger Fromager Alain Michel in Annecy, an affluent French town bordering Switzerland. With some encouragement and much support from Alain, Myriam took part in a number of competitions which allowed her to learn a lot about herself and also the career in cheese. At the National Cheesemonger Championships, being part of the International Hotel, Catering, and Food Trade Exhibition (SIRHA) in January 2013 in Lyon, Myriam took home the third place as well as the title of first place in the Under 26 category.

Myriam’s cheese platter that won her third place and top position in the Under 26 group

With the Certificat de Qualification Professionnel en fromagerie (“CQP”) in her hand, Myriam was ready to explore the world. In 2015, she left Annecy to travel and learn English in Australia. She worked at Spring Street Grocer in Melbourne before leaving for New Zealand where she wanted to get work in a vineyard. Fortunately for us in Hong Kong, Myriam did not stay long and was approached by LQV to take charge of their new cheese shop in Hong Kong. No persuasion needed! At age 27, Myriam readily accepted this challenging and exciting offer and landed in Hong Kong in July 2017.

Cheese Master, Myriam Bilbault CQP, speaks to Ivy Ng about her experience with cheese, her aspirations and vision.

Ivy Ng (IN): When and how did you decide to become a cheesemonger?

MB: Even though I already had experience of working with cheese alongside my father since 2004, it was not until the summer of 2011 when I started my internship at Fromager Alain Michel (La Crèmerie du Lac) that I decided I would build my career on cheese.

La Crèmerie du Lac in Annecy where Myriam cut her teeth in cheesemongering

At the time, I was looking for an inspiration, something that would get me excited. Cheese is a living product – we never know exactly how it is going to evolve. This is what makes it so exciting in our profession. The products are never the same.

IN: What are some of the lessons you can share with young people who wish to join this industry?

MB: Just follow your dreams and ambitions. Never be afraid to go further. Whether it is this industry or another, as long as you are passionate about the product you are working with and you do your job whole-heartedly, you will be rewarded with success.

IN: Is working as a cheesemonger in Hong Kong very different from working as a cheesemonger in France or Australia?

MB: In general, people here are less well educated about cheese but they are very nice once you get to know them. It takes more work to arouse their interest and to encourage them to taste more and different cheeses. Once they have a taste of something different, they will be better persuaded to buy cheeses other than the classic ones, such as Comté or Brie. After a year and a half in Hong Kong, I have definitely noticed a change in customer purchases – there is now more diversity. Also, here people are not afraid to say they do not know – they are more humble than the customers in France or in Australia.

As for my fellow compatriots, they are much nicer than the ones in France and they are open to discuss with you! 😊 This is very refreshing!

Space is an issue in Hong Kong – it is a bit limited here. Also, it is difficult for us to source exactly what we want, whether it is equipment, grocery products or cheeses. We do not always have access to the best quality possible. As far as managing lead time for product shipment, it can be a challenge sometimes with so many different festivals and public holidays in the year.

Myriam serving clients at La Crèmerie, Wanchai, HK

IN: How have you found the cheese ‘palate’ of Hong Kong local customers?

MB: They used to buy mainly Comté and Brie but have begun to be interested in other less conventional selections. They have become much more open to new suggestions since we opened in July 2017. This is a positive change!

IN: Who is your hero in life? Who has inspired you the most?

MB: There are many who have guided me along the way, but I would like to say my hero in life is my father. My father is not very polished but he has always pursued what he wanted to do. He has never allowed anything to stop him from following his dreams. He has encouraged me to do what I wanted to do, to always go further even if the road can be difficult at times, and to never give up until a solution is found. He has taught me to be demanding on myself (and others!)!

IN: What is your vision for La Crèmerie and cheese in Hong Kong?

MB: I am very optimistic. I expect that we will continue to grow. I would like to go further and not stop at just Hong Kong. We need to improve on the things we do less well and continue to develop. 

IN: What is your best cheese experience? Your best cheese and wine pairing?

MB: I want to say that my most treasured experience with cheese is tasting the fresh cheese in “faisselle” that my father makes at the farm. Otherwise, for a cheese and wine pairing, it would be a Sancerre with a Crottin de Chavignol “demi-affiné” (semi-aged).

IN: What do you do to relax when you are not working with cheese?

MB: I love walking by the seaside or going on a hike. I also go to the gym which relaxes me.

IN: Do you have a favourite cheese dish or a favourite cheese creation and why?

MB: I do not really have a favourite dish based on cheese. I like them all equally. But I do like adding cheese to my dishes, salads, etc.

As for a specialist cheese creation, I love Stilton marinated in Port wine. I like the texture of Stilton, which is a bit dry and crumbly and yet it melts so beautifully in the mouth. Port wine has notes of dried fruit and its sweetness softens the strong taste of the cheese.

IN: If you were a cheese, which one would it be and why?

MB: If I were a cheese, I would say a Tomme au Génépi – natural, a little sharp in taste, firm, aromatic, genuine with character. You either like it or not – there is no halfway!

Tomme au Génépi

(IN: Génépi is a herbal liqueur very popular in the Alpine regions, and it is also the plant “wormwood” of the family Artemisia that gives this liqueur the distinct aroma, flavour and colour.)

 

 

About the author:

Ivy is an independent cheese and wine educator based in Hong Kong. At Cheese & Wine HK (https://cheeseandwinehk.com) she collaborates with quality suppliers of both cheese and wine to organise educational and creative tasting events. Talking Cheese in Asia is  cheese specialist Ivy Ng’s interview-based series on the movers and shakers in Asia’s burgeoning cheese world. 

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