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From French Farms to Chinese Tables— The Journey of Friendship

2024-5-27 10:27| 发布者: 海芬心语| 查看: 91| 评论: 0

摘要: From French Farms to Chinese Tables— The Journey of Friendship through a Slice of Cheese By Reporters Peng Xunwen, Yang Junfeng, Shi Zhipeng, Gao Qiao The distance from Paris, France, to Tianjin, Ch ...

From French Farms to Chinese Tables—

The Journey of Friendship through a Slice of Cheese

By Reporters Peng Xunwen, Yang Junfeng, Shi Zhipeng, Gao Qiao

 

The distance from Paris, France, to Tianjin, China, is approximately 8,330 kilometers, a journey that takes over 10 hours by plane. Yet, for a slice of cheese, originating from fresh milk on French farms, the voyage involves months of transportation via land and sea, culminating in its transformation into a delicacy on Chinese dining tables. This journey not only encapsulates the essence of milk over time but also bears witness to the increasingly close economic and trade ties and the enduring friendship between China and France.

 

This year marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and France. Over the past six decades, bilateral trade between the two countries has grown by over 800 times. With the rising living standards of Chinese consumers, French cheese has emerged as one of the fastest-growing categories in the domestic Chinese market in recent years. Under the guidance of the leaders of both countries, the rapid development of the full chain collaboration mechanism, "from French farms to Chinese tables," has been evident. Recently, reporters embarked on separate journeys: exploring the origins of cheese ingredients in the "land of cheese," France; understanding the collaboration and research and development efforts between China and France in Tianjin; and experiencing the cultural exchange and integration of Chinese and French cheese cultures in Shanghai.

 

A piece of French cheese has become a delicious delight on the tongues of the Chinese people, vividly highlighting the ever-deepening friendship, tolerance, and cooperation between the two nations.

 

【Birth】From a Drop of Milk to a Slice of Cheese

 

How does an authentic French cheese transform from milk? To answer this question, one must start with a blade of grass and a cow.

 

In the lush green pastures of the Nielie Farm in Moulévrier, southwest of Paris, France, cows graze leisurely not far from the neat and spacious barns where dairy products are processed. The farm grows feed crops such as oats, barley, and black wheat in its fields. To maintain ecological balance, these crops are grown without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. In the hay drying room, warm air evaporates, accelerating the drying process of the grass to preserve its nutritional value. The livestock manure is returned to the fields, serving as fertilizer for crop growth, forming a sustainable organic cycle.

 

From cultivating feed crops for cows to carefully breeding high-quality cow breeds, and then to milking, the initial processing of fresh milk, and transportation to nearby processing plants, fresh milk undergoes processes such as pasteurization, coagulation, and drainage, transforming into various types of cheese. This journey of cheese production forms the "fresh-lock" industry chain from farms to factories in France.

 

"Cheese is the essence of milk. The key to making a quality cheese lies in ensuring high-quality milk sources," explained Jean-Baptiste Van Elslande, CEO of Savencia Cheese Group for Asia Pacific, Africa, and the Middle East. Established in 1956, Savencia is one of the largest cheese manufacturing companies globally. "For all cheese products processed in France, the milk source originates from France. We strive to maintain local processing of milk sources. Eighty-nine percent of the milk raw materials in the entire group come from dairy factories within a 70-kilometer radius, and sixty-seven percent come from dairy factories within a 30-kilometer radius. Through close cooperation with the source of milk, we ensure the high quality of milk sources," Elslande said.

 

"Maintaining close communication with farms is the secret to ensuring the quality of cheese raw materials," Jean-Baptiste said. The company has established a set of rules that all milk suppliers must adhere to regarding the quality of milk sources and production conditions. The company's dairy resource coordinators are in contact with farm owners every day, visiting farms at least once a year to assess the quality of milk produced and provide technical support according to the needs of the farms.

 

During the process of milk turning into cheese, differences in production processes such as fermentation time, types of fermentation bacteria used, coagulation and maturation processes, and pressing methods give rise to different varieties of cheese such as soft cheese, rennet cheese, and blue cheese, each with its unique flavor and texture, appealing to different preferences. As one of the countries with the most diverse types of cheese in the world, France boasts over 1,200 subcategories of cheese.

 

"A meal without cheese is like a beautiful lady missing an eye," French gourmet Brillat-Savarin once described the important role of cheese in French culinary culture in his work, "The Philosophy of Taste."

 

As a compatriot who has lived in France for over 20 years, Qian Haifen, President of the French Overseas Chinese Newspaper, has gradually become accustomed to eating cheese. "In France, I feel like I'm in a sea of cheese, with a rich variety of flavors, unique aromas, and textures of different cheeses, making every taste of cheese a 'journey of taste buds'," Qian Haifen said. Similar to the Chinese fascination with tea culture, the French have strict requirements for cheese production techniques, and French cheese culture embodies the profound emotions of the French towards cheese. For the French, cheese is not only a nutritious and delicious food but also a cultural carrier rich in "nutrients" of French civilization.

法国颂味佳集团亚太和非洲区域总经理让—巴蒂斯特·范·埃尔斯兰德介绍公司发展历程。钱海芬摄

颂味佳集团展示的奶酪产品。钱海芬摄

 

From entering the Chinese market in 1997 to establishing cheese production factories and developing cheese products tailored to the tastes of the Chinese population... As a foreign enterprise deeply rooted in the Chinese market for nearly 30 years, Savencia Cheese Group started with the launching of cheese lollipop category, continuously expands its business in China, resonating with the dissemination of French cheese culture in China. "A small piece of cheese from Savencia Cheese Group has witnessed the surge of Sino-French economic and trade relations," Elslande said. What makes us even happier is that the cheese products traversing the seas not only bring the unique gourmet culture of French cheese to Chinese consumers but also enhance mutual understanding and tolerance between the peoples of China and France in this process.

 

【Taking Root】

Deeper Communication, Closer Cooperation

 

There are strict operating standards in Bangsheng's workshops, such as requiring workers to wear specialized work clothes before entering, and meticulous requirements for air temperature, humidity, and other conditions in the rooms. Sun Li has been working at Bangsheng for 17 years and deeply appreciates this: "When we were constructing the third phase of the factory, each construction process was supported and supervised by French experts. For example, in terms of construction, the selection of clean wall panels, the choice of floor tiles, and even how to fill the tile joints are all meticulous. Although these issues may seem simple, if not handled properly, the ground's corrosion resistance will decrease, and water accumulation and microbial growth are likely."

 

"As the factory construction progresses, our communication with French personnel has become increasingly in-depth," Sun Li said. When Bangsheng Company first started production, there were many specific exchanges between the Sino-French teams. As business rapidly expanded, the demands of the Chinese market for products became increasingly refined, and communication between the Sino-French teams extended to hardware, processes, research and development, design, and other aspects. Most of the time, cooperation begins from the start of a project. "This mode of cooperation has many benefits. Not only can it ensure the smooth completion of projects, but it also enhances the technical capabilities of Chinese personnel, enabling them to turn more ideas into reality."

邦士(天津)食品有限公司车间生产的奶酪产品。企业供图

中法奶酪工程师在颂味佳邦士(天津)食品有限公司讨论。崔新耀摄

 

Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area, where Bangsheng Tianjin Company is located, was established in 1984 and is one of the first 14 national-level economic-technological development zones in China. From ensuring the safety of imported cold chain food for enterprises to coordinating matters such as electricity and green channel transportation for enterprises; from assisting enterprises in attracting key supporting enterprises to providing multiple approval convenience services for enterprises... The Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area provides meticulous services for enterprises. Over the decades, Bangsheng Tianjin Company and enterprises in the area have enjoyed the reform dividends of this experimental field of opening up to the outside world. Nowadays, foreign-funded enterprises have become an important part of the economy of Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area, contributing approximately 45% of its GDP, about 40% of its tax revenue, and about three-quarters of its industrial output value.

 

"Ensuring that enterprises can invest with confidence and develop with peace of mind is an important goal of our work," said Jin Xianghua, Deputy Director of the Management Committee of Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area. The committee has formulated many policy measures, such as encouraging investment in major projects and attracting investment in the industrial chain, attracting and gathering leading talents worldwide, and opening up innovation to create a highland for attracting foreign investment. "We focus on two key points: using real money to support the growth of enterprises, focusing on the future layout direction of the leading industries in the development zone, and pinpointing the pain points of enterprises; and building an industrial ecosystem that integrates capital, talents, scenarios, and innovative models, empowering enterprises in the zone comprehensively, and creating a fair and just business environment for enterprises."

 

How to attract more "Bangshengs" to settle in and root themselves in China? Jin Xianghua said that the Management Committee will continue to increase the level of opening up, intensify policy support, ensure the flow of innovative elements, consolidate the confidence of foreign investment in China, and effectively protect the investment interests of foreign-funded enterprises in the development zone; meanwhile, it will continue to enhance the golden signboard of serving enterprises, provide full lifecycle services to domestic and foreign-funded enterprises, work hard on the pain points and bottlenecks that enterprises care about, and truly enhance the sense of gain for enterprises.

 

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France, and over the past 60 years, economic and trade exchanges between China and France have become increasingly close. How can enterprises from China and France cooperate better? Pan Wenxian has her own understanding of this: "Chinese and French enterprises not only need to cooperate but also need to collaborate. In the future, cooperation should be more extensive, closer, and more harmonious. After years of adjustment and two-way communication between Chinese and French teams, French colleagues gradually understand the uniqueness of Chinese consumers and channels and are willing to delve deeper into and listen to the needs of the Chinese market, match appropriate resources, and provide support, while respecting regional differences in strategic direction; while Chinese local teams focus on the cultivation of local cheese talents, accelerate learning and understanding of cheese categories and product technology in mature European markets, develop more suitable and high-quality products in line with the needs of the Chinese market, and communicate and cooperate with domestic partners in various technical aspects to achieve the common progress of cheese enterprises and the industry."

 

【Taste】There's Wisdom in Cheese, and Profound Feelings Between the People of China and France

 

In the French Cheese Hut in Jing'an District, Shanghai, a cheese tasting class is being held in a relaxed and romantic atmosphere around a long table formed by four small wooden tables. Various cheese platters, diverse wine glasses, colorful flowers, several desserts, and snacks are arranged on the table, and all the questions that the students are interested in, such as the origin of cheese, the different types of cheese, the steps of cheese making, and cheese pairing, are being answered in the classroom.

 

"France is renowned as the 'land of cheese.' Knowing how to properly eat French cheese is a form of art," explains the cheese class teacher Zhang Jia. Firstly, one must know how to slice it, as different shapes of cheese require different cutting methods. "For round cheese, it's sliced like cutting a cake, into triangular slices from the center outwards; for square cheese, it's first cut diagonally, then each triangle is cut in half..."

 

Even the tools used are exquisite. "For sticky soft cheese, a cheese knife with holes is used; for large and hard cheese, a double-handled cheese knife is chosen. In addition, there are cheese bows, scrapers, and other tools," Zhang Jia explains while demonstrating with the "utensils" in hand.

 

This is the second time student Zhang Qin has attended the course. "I enjoy cooking. Every weekend, I make homemade bread, spread some cheese on it, and pair it with nuts and fruits. It looks very appetizing!" Zhang Qin says, finding the cheese explanation very meaningful, as it not only allows her to learn about French cheese-related knowledge and culture but also enables her to meet many like-minded companions.

法国奶酪师在向消费者介绍奶酪。受访者供图

外国模特在上海盒超市举行的奶酪秀中展示奶酪。受访者供图

Since its inception in 2021, the cheese tasting class has become the "signature" of the French Cheese Hut. As the only officially certified official dairy experience store of the French National Dairy Industry Association in China, this French Cheese Hut has become a window for consumers to experience the colorful culture of French cheese.

 

"All these cheeses are air-flown from France, with over 30 varieties," says Liu Bingyi, the proprietor of the French Cheese Hut, pointing in the direction. Classic French cheeses like Brie, Comté, Roquefort, Bleu d'Auvergne, and Abondance come into view. Liu Bingyi explains that cheese also comes in different maturation periods, ranging from as short as 4-6 months to as long as 48 months.

 

In the exhibition area, reporters see various models of French cheeses, with surface textures resembling real cheese. Cheese pots, cheese gloves, wooden cheese boards, cheese knives, cheese boxes, and other items are exquisitely displayed.

 

Running this experiential store is not easy. Liu Bingyi recalls that when it opened in 2019, they had to build the platform almost from scratch, with no previous experience to draw upon. "At first, we didn't even understand how to preserve cheese, so we specifically invited experts from France to train us." Now, after gradually exploring, the store's influence has gradually expanded: more and more consumers come to shop, from children to the elderly, from Chinese to foreigners, many of whom have become repeat customers. "When a regular customer comes, I know which cheese they want to buy and how much without even saying a word."

 

When talking about cheese and the French Cheese Hut, Liu Bingyi always has endless words to say. In her words, she has a special affection for French cheese. In 2011, Liu Bingyi, who was studying at Shanghai University, came to study abroad in Grenoble, France through an engineer program. Once, she and her classmates visited a well-known local cheese shop, where people lined up to buy cheese, leaving a deep impression on her.

 

In 2013, Liu Bingyi moved from the school dormitory to rent a room in a local family. The landlord was a French grandmother named Françoise. "Grandma Françoise always had a kind of cheese called Brie at home. Every afternoon, she would pour a little red wine and cut a piece of cheese to share with me." Liu Bingyi said, "From then on, I developed a habit of eating cheese."

 

More than ten years have passed, and the friendship between Liu Bingyi and Françoise has become even stronger. On holidays and birthdays, the two exchange blessings. "When she learned that I was running a French Cheese Hut and engaged in Sino-French cheese cultural exchanges, she was as happy as a child," Liu Bingyi said. "She often tells me that there will always be a room for me in her house. A few days ago, the nearly 80-year-old grandma sent me a letter inviting me to visit her this summer. We will taste cheese together, just like more than ten years ago."

 

【Blend】Sharing the "Taste of France and China" on the Tip of the Tongue

"Can anyone guess what I'm holding?"

As soon as French cheese master Bas opened his mouth, he attracted everyone's attention. Recently, a "cheese show" kicked off at a Hema store in Changning District, Shanghai.

A curious child asked, "Are you holding a ball? Or a pumpkin?" From a distance, it does look like a Chinese pumpkin, but as Bas explained, the mystery was revealed: it was a French cheese called "Mimolette."

"And there's a surprise inside!" Bas put on gloves, tightly gripped a double-handled cheese knife, and forcefully cut open this hard-skinned "ball." Inside, it was also orange. "The orange color comes from annatto, made from the seeds of the annatto tree grown in tropical regions of South and Central America."

Why add orange? Bas explained that in the Netherlands, there is a cheese called "Gouda," which is very similar to Mimolette. To distinguish the categories, the French mixed annatto with milk for processing.

Then, he took out the cheese wire and carefully cut a slice, dividing it into several portions for customers to taste on-site.

"I just tasted several pieces. Such activities increase Chinese consumers' understanding of French cheese, which is a great exchange of Sino-French cuisine," one customer said.

This is not Bas's first time promoting cheese in China. "I have been working and living in Shanghai for nearly 3 years, mainly bridging the gap between cheese manufacturers and consumers, introducing the types, origins, flavors of French cheese, as well as how to cut and pair them for better nutrition," Bas said.

Bas, from Reims, France, was previously a musician. His long-term performing career allowed him to taste the wide variety of cheeses from different regions of France. Later, out of personal passion, he chose to venture into the cheese industry.

Through cheese, Bas has met many Chinese friends and built deep friendships. This includes employees of French dairy companies, cheese makers, and ambassadors promoting cheese culture. "What surprised me was that whenever I performed cheese cutting, Chinese consumers were always very enthusiastic, and this enthusiasm deeply infected me."

Cheese holds an important position and tradition in French culinary culture. In France, the average person consumes 27 kilograms of cheese per year. "More and more French cheeses are appearing on Chinese dinner tables, reflecting the deep and pragmatic cooperation between China and France in fields such as economy, culture, tourism, and more," Pan Wenxian said, emphasizing the enormous potential of the Chinese dairy product market. Using cheese as a carrier, continuous innovation will produce more delicious and nutritious cheese products, thereby boosting Sino-French exchanges and cooperation in various fields.

Cheese holds an important position in French culinary culture and heritage. In some European countries, the average person consumes 27 kilograms of cheese per year. Today, cheese, as a relatively new dairy product, is increasingly appearing on Chinese dinner tables, with per capita consumption in China reaching 180 grams per year.

颂味佳邦士食品有限公司总经理潘文娴与消费者交流。受访者供图

 

"As more and more cheese appears on Chinese dinner tables, it reflects the deepening cooperation between China and France in economy, culture, science and technology, and tourism, which also benefits from the improvement of Chinese people's income and openness and their pursuit of a healthy and nutritious lifestyle," Pan Wenxian said. The potential of the Chinese dairy product market is huge. As a newcomer, cheese will continue to innovate in localization, from formula content, taste to packaging, bringing more diverse choices suitable for Chinese people's dinner tables and leisure time, and further enhancing exchanges and cooperation between China and France in high-quality food, quality lifestyle, and food technology.

Northeastern cuisine, salted duck, mapo tofu, braised pig's trotters... When talking about favorite Chinese cuisine, Bas listed a long string. "French and Chinese cultures have many similarities, and food is an important aspect." Bas said that on important holidays and occasions, both countries pay great attention to what they eat. French cheese is similar to Chinese tofu, and he hopes that by promoting cheese culture, people from both countries can better understand each other's culinary cultures and share the "taste of France and China" on the tip of the tongue.

 


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