Over the past three decades, French cheese master Gerard Poulard has amassed a smorgasbord of about 1,000 cheeses, made from goat, sheep and cow milk, according to the BBC.
To unearth them, the 70-year-old travels with his son to small, family- owned farms that dot the French countryside. The duo, who both have pilot licences, rent a small plane for their cheese-hunting trips, which used to happen every other weekend.
Mr Poulard tells The Straits Times in French through a translator: “From the plane, we can look out for flocks of sheep, cows and goats in the fields. These remote farms that rear these animals are likely to produce cheese.”
One of his trips almost got him in trouble with the law.
Chuckling at a memory, he says: “Once, a farmer almost called the police as he was wondering why we were making so much noise by hovering our plane above his farm.”
These trips happen less frequently these days, as he has built up a solid network with cheesemakers around the country.
Mr Poulard brought about 150kg of 50 varieties of cheeses for a five-day showcase at Ginett Restaurant & Wine Bar in Hotel G in Middle Road.
Some rare ones include the Trappist cheese, a semi-hard cow’s-milk cheese made by Trappist monks, and Perail des Cabasses, which is made from raw sheep’s milk from Aveyron in southern France.
Mr Poulard is no stranger to the local food scene. The long-time cheese maitre has been here about 20 times for cheese events at hotels and restaurants. In the 1990s, he helmed an annual cheese event in the now-defunct Le Meridien Hotel in Orchard Road.
Rovethym haute Provence
He says: “I love Singapore as it is a unique place that is at the crossroads of diverse cultures. I like Singapore food, from mee pok to Hainanese chicken rice.”
The former cheese maitre of the now-defunct Le Meridien Montparnasse in Paris notes that diners here have come a long way in their appreciation of cheese.
St Domnin De Provence Petit
“Diners used to flinch at the sight of more pungent cheeses such as blue cheese. It was like bringing durian into Paris,” he says with a laugh. “These days, people in Paris are no longer scared of durians. And neither are Singaporeans of cheese as their tastebuds have evolved and they are more adventurous and want to discover new types of cheese.”
At a media event here, the sprightly Mr Poulard, who sported a silver-haired ponytail, bantered easily and playfully tossed a ball-shaped Mimolette cheese up in the air during a photo shoot.
On hearing that some diners are familiar only with common types of pasteurised cheeses such as brie and mozzarella, he shakes his head disapprovingly.
“Pasteurised cheese has almost no taste and smell,” he explains. “The most important thing when you are eating cheese is not to smell what you eat, but to taste what you smell.”
Coeur De Neufchatel
He adds that making pasteurised cheese has become an industrialised process, whereas having cheeses made with raw milk is “enjoying a slice of culture” made by predominantly female cheesemakers in France.
The age-old practice of men working in the fields in dairy farms and their wives staying home to make dairy products such as cheese and butter still exists in rural France.
Despite being a champion for French cheeses, he sheepishly admits that it is an Italian cheese – Parmigiano-Reggiano that has been aged for four years.
He exclaims: “The flavour, texture, smell are well balanced and this is perfection in cheese.”
Bouchon Sarment D’Armour
A highly sought-after cheese consultant, Mr Poulard travels six times a year for events around the world to share his encyclopaedic knowledge, from the breed of animals behind cheeses to pairing cheeses with tea, wines and fruit.
These days, he says, “his boss” is his son Olivier, 42, who runs Poulard Paris, which distributes cheeses and organises beer and cheese events. He also owns French beer company Riviera.
What keeps Mr Poulard, who has been bestowed the Order of Agricultural Merit by the French government, excited about his job?
The grandfather of three says with a twinkle in his eye: “It is my passion to travel around the world to share about French culture. Cheese, like wine and baguette, is in our DNA and is our way of life.”
Trou Du Cru Berthaut