Cultivating a cheese culture is difficult in Asia. It's too hot, it's too humid, and according to this research, most of us here are lactose intolerant. Wait, I'm not stereotyping, and this will make a lot more sense when I explain it (aka regurgitate knowledge that I found on the Internet).
Asia traditionally has no concept of cheese. This is because, historically, the land here was not suitable for raising cattle. Really, the introduction of dairy to Asia is quite recent, and because we haven't been slurping milk and eating what are essentially slices of rotten milk (i.e. cheese) for millennia, we didn't develop a proper tolerance to lactose. The inability to digest and process lactose is allegedly more prevalent in adults worldwide. But don't despair: lactose intolerance is the norm. In fact, those who are lactose tolerant are the weird ones (looking at you, Westerners...).
Photo credit: Food Intolerance Network
Despite all the odds, there's one man intent on bringing cheese culture and appreciation to our humble nation, bless him (hey, I said cultivating a cheese culture was difficult, not impossible). Award-winning cheese connoisseur Gérard Poulard has been France's official Cheese Ambassador to the World since 1999, and it's not an appointment he takes lightly either. His CV boasts of travels to 22 countries so far in order to educate us poor cheeseless plebs on France's most popular export. I made a trip over to Scarlett Café & Wine Bar in TST to have a chat with the man himself:
In your opinion, what is the most overrated cheese? And what is the most underrated cheese?
Gruyère cheese is the most overrated, in my opinion. Everybody knows Gruyère, in every country, in any part of the world, we know or have heard about Gruyère. Who knows Beaufort cheese? It’s similar to Gruyère, Comté, Emmental but hasn’t received enough marketing support to be in the spotlight. For me, Beaufort cheese is the most underrated.
How do you perceive the cheese culture in Asia and how does one improve it?
The cheese culture in Asia is quite new, due to the weather and food customs. In the last few years, we have seen big changes in Asian consumers in regards to the cheese culture. Asian brands have started to make their own cheese and cheese-based products, like Japan, for example.
How have people's tastes regarding cheese changed over the years?
Initially, people used to associate cheese with bad smells and they shied away from it as they didn’t want their homes or mouths to reek of smelly cheese. However, this has changed dramatically, to the point where people nowadays go out of their way to buy artisanal cheese, because it’s now considered to be a gastronomic specialty.
How do you propose cultivating a cheese-appreciation culture in Asia?
By organising special cheese promotion events like this, where the aim is to educate consumers about all the many types of cheeses found throughout France and how unique they all are. Having prominent chefs and TV programmes in Asia discuss cheese culture will also help as well.
Are there any recent innovations in the cheese world?
Yes and no. When it comes to the type of traditional cheese I specialise in, the method of production has remained largely the same. Of course, the new era of processed and packaged cheese has undergone many innovations, however, I’m not familiar with these processes as I really only deal with very traditional, fresh cheese from the French countryside. From a health point of view, it has now been recognised that goat and sheep milk is better for the human body than cow’s milk. Not so much an innovation but a new discovery.
Keep your eyes peeled for Part II of this cheese exploration, in which I (via the excellent knowledge of Monsieur Poulard) will teach you about different types of small-batch, boutique French cheeses, their flavour profiles and why they matter in the world of cheese.
Scarlett Café & Wine Bar
Tel: 3565 6513