the love story: monteillet fromagerie
The afternoon I spent with Joan and Pierre-Louis Monteillet feels like a bit of a dream, and that I was swept up in their epic love story. It was an afternoon of wine, cheese, conversation, and the building of friendship.
I joined Joan after morning chores in her cheese room with friends and as she walked us through a tasting of their cheese offerings, I spotted a picture of a young Joan in the cheese tasting room. Her hair flying, riding her horse, she seemed at the same time untamed and yet extremely focused. As a third generation wheat farmer in the Walla Walla area of Washington, her life story is exactly just that. The bold, focused woman in front of me who manages a world class dairy farm, sat down with me to talk about community, farming and sisterhood.
I pepper her with questions that I'm sure she receives time and time again. What was your childhood like? How did you two meet? How did you move from wheat farming to artisan cheesemaking? Joan and Pierre-Louis comfortably share what I'm sure is an oft-told love story that begins with a chance meeting in Mexico, an exchange of addresses and six weeks later Pierre-Louis showing up on the farm - having hitchhiked in three days from Mexico to Walla Walla. Thirty three years later, still on the farm, with a love and respect between them, it's nearly palpable.
Their love story extends to the animals in their care, and the cheese they create together. It's that partnership that make their cheese so special. Together they farmed wheat for six years before deciding that they were better suited for a small goat and sheep farm and creating hand-crafted cheese. Pierre-Louis returned to France for a short time to learn the craft and returned to create a terroir-based cheese in an area that is historically well known for it's wheat but increasingly for its grapes. Like the wine that is so sought after from this area, so is their small batch cheese.
Their farm is charming, and the location of many farm dinners including the famed Outstanding in the Field. Their cheese tasting room is cozy, and hosts a steady stream of friends and visitors. The community they worked hard to build, lovely.
The hard work and focus is evident. I notice the small touches that make their farm special, including the outdoor kitchen, cheesemaking classroom, lodging for visitors. Everyone takes their job very serious here, including the dogs who made sure that I didn't get too close to their goat herd. But it is the heart shaped Le Roi Noir (The Black King) that strikes me. It is a twice bloomed cheese that is coated in grapeleaf ash. It's finished with a touch of edible gold leaf right in the center and couldn't help feel that this is the quintessential Joan and her love story. All of the hard work, carefully wrapped up into a heart and touched with gold.
Thank you Joan for being a part of The Female Farmer Project. Monteillet Fromagerie can be found here: http://www.monteilletcheese.com/