One hour from the bustling Place de la Concorde in central Paris, I have discovered a bucolic secret: La Ferme des 30 Arpents, belonging to Baron Benjamin de Rothschild and his wife Ariane. Their 4,000-acre estate is used for hunting, farming and the artisanal production of cheese. It is not a tourist destination; far from it. You can visit, but only on a Friday – and you must pre-order your cheese.
The land has belonged to the family since the 18th century, and today the main feature of the estate is sustainable agriculture, with a focus on the ancient regional tradition of cheesemaking. Some 160 handsome mixed-breed cows produce the milk that is transformed into mouthwatering raw-milk cheeses such as Brie de Meaux DOP and Melun (€19-€27 per kilo), the former of which is the world’s only authentic AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) brie.
My reason for visiting, however, was the truffled brie, Délice de Favières (€70-€80 per kilo, pictured), the farm’s latest delicacy. “We only use melanosporum truffles, the finest possible, bought in, not from the estate,” admits commercial director Franck Hillou. “The climatic conditions in the region are not favourable for truffle production. You may find truffled brie elsewhere, but it will probably be made with tuberestivum truffles, which have absolutely no taste.”
The farm also produces Délice de Jeanette (from €4 for 250g), a type of Brillat-Savarin – a mild cheese to which butterfat is added, giving it a unique flavour. Brie Noir is aged for up to eight months, resulting in a richer colour and texture (from €17-€24, depending on size); there’s also an excellent raw-milk Coulommiers (€7 for 350g); and the Merle Rouge Tomme (from €12, depending on size) is lovingly rubbed with sediment sourced from Rothschild Bordeaux wines. I bought another delicious brie with a “soft” centre of Moutarde de Meaux (from €30 per kilo) and look forward to another they are working on “with hazelnuts and honey from the farm’s beehives”.
All the cheeses are made in a pristine stainless-steel fromagerie, where tradition and modernity combine. The cheeses qualify as “fermier”, meaning they are made only from milk produced by their own cows, which are housed in airy barns or left to roam in the pastures of Les 30 Arpents (an arpent is a measurement of about an acre). “It takes 6.6 gallons of milk to make a six-pound brie,” adds Hillou, who intends to introduce the collection in a series of cheese and wine tastings at London’s La Cave, which sells Brie de Meaux Fermier in its Notting Hill, Kensington and Brighton stores, from September.