I feel very fortunate to be where I am in life. Whatever the reasons for that, all are at some point linked to the people I’ve met, and in particular the serendipity that seems to arise when I decide to overcome any personal reservations I have and just put myself out there. So when a former colleague suggested I speak to a good friend of hers who is not only an American, but an acknowledged cheese expert who has lived in France and partners with the Mons family of fromagers who not only age and sell fantastic cheeses, but teach and train future cheesemongers, I jumped at the chance.
Sue Sturman’s story is one you can read about here. I mention her because we spoke recently. She’ll be in town for the Salon du Fromage in a few short weeks and she asked me if I might have time to go on a reconnaissance mission to check out a few new fromageries. Of course I accepted!
The first of these was Fromagerie Belisson. The boutique is about 30 minutes’ walk from my apartment in Levallois in the neighboring commune of Clichy. Walking is the fastest way to get there, especially on the weekend, as metro requires you to go all the way into Paris to come back out and the buses run infrequently. I set off into the dreary rainy afternoon with my son and camera in tow.
Clichy is on its way up as a neighborhood and Belisson is surely a leading indicator of that. The proprietor, Michaël Belissa, didn’t start out to be a cheesemonger. He worked for years in the hospitality sector until about 3 years ago he opened a shop in Clichy with a New York appeal, selling amongst other things cheesecake and bagels (the latter being a phenomenon that has hopefully peaked in Paris). A fan of cheese himself, he began steeping himself in the industry through training, an internship at the famous Quatrehomme boutique, and travels throughout France to meet the producers. He opened Belisson almost a year ago when the storefront two doors down from his other restaurant, which marked the return of any fromagerie to Clichy for over a decade.
If my visit was any indication, he’s been busy ever since. In the roughly 20 minutes I was there, there was a steady flow of customers. The shop is small, not more than 5 metres square, with a very satisfying variety of cheeses on three of four walls. They also offer a small selection of wines and the cherished Bordier butter. That day they happened to be tasting caviar as well.
Upon entering, I greeted everyone and explained how I had arrived at the shop. While they initially looked at me with some suspicion (my accent, the camera, and the request to take pictures were outside of his normal experience), when we got to the cheese they were very helpful. I mentioned I was looking for a nice selection of 4-5 cheeses and asked for recommendations, which I was happily given. This in itself is unusual in my experience, as I find most people will defer to my tastes even if I am asking them to steer me to something they’re especially fond of.
I ended up with six very good cheeses which, for the price, were also an outstanding value.
- Moelleux de Revard (cow) – a washed-rind cheese from the Savoie region, whose interior resembles a tomme de Savoie, but far creamier, almost buttery. The earthy smell belies its terroir, the grasses of the region. One slight off note: this was a little salty.
- Bonde d’Antan (goat) – very mild, slightly crumbly but delightfully creamy and rich with a lingering warmth. A real standout. We ate on this for days.
- L’Etivaz d'Hiver (Pays d'en Haut) (cow) – a fantastic cheese from Switzerland, like a gruyère, that we rarely see in the States with a delicious nutty flavor.
- Tomme d’Espelette (sheep) – looks characteristic of its Basque origin, with a lovely light tang of the sheep’s milk. This was not specked with the Espelette pepper from the region, but it was delicious nonetheless.
- Bleu de Gex (cow) – a thinly streaked blue cheese from the Franche-Comté region, on the milder side of the blues with a nice bite but a gentle finish. Creamy and unctuous.
- Morbier (cow) – a classic, also from the Franche-Comté region, with its characteristic central ash line and a soft, almost elastic feel. A quality specimen.
My two favorites in this excellent selection were the Bonde d’Antan and the Bleu de Gex. I have a preference for milder goat’s cheeses, and the Bonde hit every mark perfectly for me. In the same vein, the Bleu de Gex was a stunning example of balance for a blue cheese.
It’s a bit unfair for me to not also mention the Tomme d’Espelette. I’m on record about my love for firm sheep’s milk cheeses from the Basque region, and the truth is I’d have been delighted to sit on a balcony overlooking the ocean with a baguette, a jar of dark cherry preserves and a bottle of red. It got a little lost among the others through no fault of its own.
It’s not the shortest walk to get there, but I’ll be going back to Belisson, not least for what it represents: a welcome addition to a town with a passionate owner dedicated to top products.
Fromagerie Belisson, 8 place des Martys de l'Occupation, 92110 Clichy | website