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A French Cheesemonger's American Adventures



Laure Dubouloz misses some of the cheeses from her childhood home in Annecy, in the French Alps. But the third-generation cheesemonger says it took moving to New York five years ago to discover cheeses from the rest of Europe.

“Most French people know every cheese from their region, but not necessarily from other regions,” she says. “We have Roquefort, so why would we get Stilton from the English? Of course we knew Gruyère, but that’s a Swiss cheese and there’s a big rivalry there,” she says.

Ms. Dubouloz, 32 years old, is U.S. general manager for Mons Fromager Affineur, a cheese seller based in Roanne, France. She travels about 10 days a month from her Brooklyn, N.Y., home to cities around the U.S. holding tastings and educating vendors about her company’s cheeses.

One of her biggest clients is Whole Foods Market, and on a recent trip to the Rocky Mountain region she hit stores in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Denver, Boulder and Boise. She leads training sessions for the employees who work the cheese counter at the upscale supermarket chain, showing the proper way to cut and serve various cheeses, explaining the different flavors and providing pairing recommendations. For example, “If you serve a heavy, strong wine with a soft goat cheese, you’re just going to kill your cheese,” she says.

Ms. Dubouloz carries up to 10 cheeses in an insulated bag. Ice packs in the side pockets keep things cool. Lately, she has been serving a new trio of company favorites: a traditional Camembert from Normandy stuffed with either porcini mushrooms, truffles or walnuts. For training sessions, she wears her company apron and a crisp white shirt.

All of her tools fit in a canvas and leather pouch. Cheese paper (for wrapping) and two small cutting boards are essentials, she says: a wooden board for soft creamy cheeses, a plastic board for harder cheeses.

She carries a fil-à-beurre—a butter wire—for cutting hard cheese, and a cheese lyre for soft cheese. “A big part of our training is how to handle the cheeses, why they smell like this or why they taste like that, and passing that knowledge onto the customer so they can fully enjoy it,” Ms. Dubouloz said.

One lesson: Digging into a Brie in a haphazard way has consequences, if you don’t respect the “rind-to-paste ratio,” she says. “At the end, there will be a person who only gets the rind and doesn’t get to experience the entire cheese.”

Her kit holds several knives. One of the most useful, she says, is an Opinel No. 6, a light carbon steel blade perfect for cutting small slices for tastings. She also carries a Corsican switchblade. Her most-prized possession is a folding knife from Thiers, a town in central France known for its handmade cutlery. Hers is by Coutellerie Chambriard and has a birch wood handle with a natural leopard pattern. She bought it about six years ago, along with identical knives for her younger brother and sister. Each has their name engraved in the handle.

Ms. Dubouloz comes from a cheese family. In 1960, her grandparents built a cheese cave on their property and would buy cheese from farmers in the region to sell at local farmers markets. She recalls waking up at 5 a.m. on the weekends to join her father, Jacques, in the family truck heading off to that day’s market town.

“Starting at 8 years old, you stay in the back and wash the knives and keep things tidy. Sometimes, you can help with the wrapping,” she says. As a teenager, she was up front working with customers all day. “It’s nonstop, but it’s awesome,” she says, recalling regular customers in different towns and their weekly orders. Whenever she goes back to visit—usually twice a year—she spends an hour or so at the market stall with her father and brother.

Ms. Dubouloz still eats cheese everyday, only now she includes Robiolas from Italy, Manchegos from Spain, and fine cheddars from the U.S., among others.

“Sometimes if I’m at the airport and I haven’t packed snacks, before the flight I’ll grab one of the prepackaged cheddars or Babybels for my cheese fix. I’m not ashamed.”

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