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Cheese Bytes Spring 2004 - Chef John Folse
Owner of Bittersweet Plantation Dairy in Gonzales, Louisiana
Chef John Folse has to be one of the nicest men we have ever talked to! He is all about old fashioned Southern charm, and his cheeses, from his own Bittersweet Plantation Dairy in Gonzales, Louisiana, are a fine example of America's artisanal cheese renaissance. Gonzales is about midway between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, a seemingly unlikely place to discover an artisanal cheese producer.
Norbert: Tell me about yourself. Iím from New Orleans but I've only been to Gonzales once or twice. What's it like?
Chef John: Well, I built my first restaurant in 1978, called Lafite's Landing, in Donaldsville, Louisiana. It was in an old plantation house which burned to the ground. Six months later, I opened up again in another 200 year old house and we just celebrated our 20th anniversary in 1998. So we've been in the same area for a long time.
N: How'd you get into cheese making?
C.J. : I've written seven cookbooks on Louisiana cooking, and I'm about to publish my eighth, The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine, which will coincide with my PBS Series Taste of Louisiana. During my research, I discovered that the Europeans who settled in this area had cheese stands in the 1700s and 1800s, and I wondered what happened to this cheese industry.
There wasn't a lot written about it, but each group of people brought their traditions to New Orleans, which became part of the culture of the city. The French brought some French cheese making, and the Germans, too. So, we did what they did, starting with a triple creme style like the French. I hired an LSU graduate and we spent two years in R&D. Then we built a small plant and made some Creole Cream Cheese. Borden was interested in that, which gave me the cash flow to keep on researching. I was excited about what each nation brought to the area and I thought, let's resurrect it, we'll recreate it!
N: Well done, I might add.
J: I was lucky. Now we are R&D on a cheddar, a blue, and we're about to have a goat cheese.
N: We are very anxious to see that.
J: We are waiting for our first goat milk, which should be in a month or so. We have 200 head of goat outside Baton Rouge and it's going really well. The Triple Cremes are taking off. We have three cheese caves where we can age 1000 wheels at a time. And we are experimenting with a Brie, too.
N: What kind of a goat cheese will it be?
J: I think there is so much fresh chevre and flavored chevre on the market right now, who needs more? So, I thinking of trying a triple creme or a drier aged goat, but we'll see.
N: Any plans for sheep's milk cheese?
J: As much as I would love to, because there's tremendous excitement about sheep's cheeses, no one has sheep within three or four states! A guy came to me recently about opening a goat dairy and I said what about sheep? I've got goat. He's got 500 acres, so he may be my man!
N: Sheep are the most popular cheeses in our store right now.
J: We would be happy to fill that niche!
N: So the obvious question is, when ya'll coming out to Beverly Hills?
J: I am coming out to the West Coast a couple of times this year, to wine country near Seattle, and to Monterey and Carmel. It would be fun to come and do a demo in your store.
N: That would be great! It's been a pleasure. I must tell you that Spago, Water Grill, and Patina have all bought the Bittersweet Triple Creme and have given it rave reviews, love the ash.
J: That's fantastic to know. It's our most popular!
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