From Amateur to Fromager

French Cheesemakers Frederic & Marisa Thomas

In this thirteenth edition of The Wandering Cheesemonger,  Grace, the ever-observant blogger, admires the process followed by her mentors.

Marisa and Frederic Thomas never imagined themselves as ‘paysannes’, raising goats and making cheese for a living.  They originally bought two goats to keep their horse Histoire company, not intending to even have to milk them. Fast forward a few years, however, and Marisa couldn’t resist the urge to try making some of the fresh goat cheese that is so commonly found in French markets.

By 2005, Marisa had expanded her herd to 30 goats and was milking them outdoors from a portable milking station.  In the summer, this was ideal; she worked in a bathing suit and rubber boots, enjoying the sun, and tells me that everyone envied her tan.  However, when the weather was bad (and in Brittany this is often), milking her 30 goats two-by-two out of doors was a 3 hour long nightmare

In 2009, after having made cheese for a few years with no training, Marisa went back to school and got her professional license to raise goats and make cheese.  The same year, Marisa and Fred decided to build a barn to house their goats so that they could continue to expand the business, naming it the Chevrerie de la Baie.  To them, this didn’t seem like a big deal, considering that they had already built the house they live in now with their own hands.

Soon after, they decided to buy their first buffalo, an addition to the farm that would eventually allow them to make buffalo mozzarella. Marisa didn’t succeed in making her mozzarella until 2013, due to multiple hiccups (including finding out that their only male buffalo was sterile).

Today, Marisa and Fred are still expanding, adding buffalo and goats to their herds, adding on to the barn, and even adding cheeses – Marisa plans to tackle making burratta next.  Every day during the busy season, Fred and Marisa have to work 12 hour days, but every day they sell out of cheese and end up having to turn people away.  This story is still ongoing, and their hold on running a successful business is still sometimes tenuous, but the most incredible part of their rise to local cheese fame is the fact that they figured it all out themselves.  They built their own barn, learned how to take care of large herds of goats, taught themselves how to make the cheese, and even took the leap to be one of the very few buffalo mozzarella producers in France.

Marisa, the head cheesemaker, is an embodiment of the vision, courage, and hard work that goes in to making an exceptional cheese.  She has made goat cheese for years in a country where cheese like this is taken for granted.  Fred and Marisa’s creativity and innovation cheesemakers is inspiring and impressive, and I feel lucky to get the chance to work with and learn from them. And, if you ever happen to be in Brittany, don’t miss visiting their farm – it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever had the privilege to be.

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