Living in the depths of southern Alsace close to the Swiss border has many advantages. One is that I’m strategically placed within sniffing distance of one of Europe’s most celebrated cheesemongers. Such delicious proximity does have one snag: Bernard and Jean-François Antony’s tiny boutique in Vieux-Ferrette, a magnet for cheeseheads from all over Europe, is wickedly tempting.
The business began as a travelling grocery shop, which trundled around the surrounding villages and markets. Today a state-of-the-art refrigerated van continues to serve three weekly markets. Their shop is attached to the family home and this is where the impressive cellars, seven in total, are housed. Each one is cooled and humidified to just the right temperature for the type of cheese aged there.
Contrary to popular belief, the Antonys do not make cheese. They describe themselves as éleveurs de fromages – the verb élever meaning “to bring up” or “raise”, as parents with their offspring. Young cheeses arrive daily from all over France, alongside a handful from Italy, Switzerland the UK. These are laid on straw mats on wooden shelves and, depending on type, they will be turned, washed or brushed and generally nursed to perfection over weeks or months. Only when deemed to be at their best will they be released into the shop, or despatched to top restaurants all over Europe, including Le Cinq in Paris’s Hotel Georges V and Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester in London.
I myself agonise over the sheer choice on offer. In winter I can rarely resist a plump pillow of Mont d’Or (€16 for 700g), corseted in its sprucewood box. Staying true to Alsace I often choose a pungent, washed-rind Munster (€29 per kilo) from the Ferme des Pensées Sauvages, or if I’m feeling a little homesick for England I go for a wedge of Stichelton (€43 per kilo). A recent discovery is Le Colombier (€10 for 300g), a bloomy rind farmhouse cheese from Burgundy – and seldom do I depart without a fragrant hunk of aged Comté (€29 per kilo) from the Jura tucked under my arm.