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For all its culinary riches, Marseille is not a mecca of cheese. France’s famous fromage regions are found where the cows roam – like Normandy and the Auvergne. Marseille’s warm weather doesn’t quite whet one’s appetite for filling cheese, nor is it well-suited for the cooler temperatures that cheese-making requires.
The biggest claim to Marseille cheese fame is the region’s lone AOC, the ultra-fresh chèvre, Brousse du Rove. Now, a new urban dairy is adding to that reputation.

Located a few blocks up from the Vieux-Port, the Laiterie Marseillaise brings the craft of cheesemaking into the heart of France’s second-largest city. Normally, a fromagerie (cheese shop) buys its wares from a fromager (cheese maker.) Here, they are one in the same. At Laiterie Marseillaise, a glass window bisects the shop and atelier, allowing customers to witness their workmanship firsthand, sampling a wedge of pedagogical pleasure with each dairy delight.

Though they seem right at home at their bright boutique, the business is a career change for owners Audrey and Madeleine. The duo met in Paris in 2018, classmates at a professional crémier-fromager (dairy-cheese making) program who became fast friends. Madeleine was leaning towards cheese making while Audrey was drawn to selling it. They never thought they could do both under one roof.

Things changed when one of their professors, Pierre Coulon, opened Laiterie de Paris, the first urban fromagerie-fromager in France. “I had no idea you could make cheese in a city,” said Madeleine, whose apprenticeships had happened on French farms. When Audrey realized that her hometown of Marseille lacked cheese shops, they decided to pool their talents in Marseille.

At the beginning of 2020, the Laiterie Marseillaise opened on a popular street in the residential Saint-Victor neighborhood. The front section houses the boutique, stocked with cheeses and other dairy goods made in-house and sourced from farmstead cheesemakers. Fittingly, the cheeses fabricated in the back lab are displayed just below the window that separates the spaces. On one visit, we couldn’t resist buying the blackened Zaaté after watching Madeleine dust a mix of za’atar and ashes over raw goat’s milk cheese.

You can spot other house-made specialties by their creative names. The Piton, a sheep cheese speckled with orange piment d’Espelette, is inspired by the volcano on Île de Reunion from which Charlotte, a team member, hails. Paying homage to the city are Basil Boli, a basil-flecked chèvre named for a former player of the Olympique de Marseille football team, and Total Khéops, a savory ash goat cheese that shares the title of an iconic crime novel in author Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseilles Trilogy. There’s even a crottin de vache, a cow’s milk cheese, infused in pastis then smoked over olive wood.

One perk of city cheese making, according to Madeleine, is the “immediate feedback from the clients,” which would be harder to achieve on a rural farm. This inspires her to continually test new recipes, like topping fresh goat cheese with mandarin marmalade and borage flowers. Thanks to their sustainable production methods of fabricating in micro-quantities, Laiterie Marseillaise can offer a wide selection in their small space.

Not every item is made in house, but that doesn’t mean any should be ignored. At the right of the shop is a cabinet of aged cheeses from small producers – including Beaufort, Tomme de Savoie and other alpine fromage. Across from it is another cabinet with a big draw: the yogurts. Some are flavored with carefully selected ingredients, such as verveine (lemon verbena) from local herbalist Père Blaise, and noisette made with hazelnut purée from Piedmont. Audrey says they are the top two favorites. They both make wonderful desserts, per the French tradition of eating yogurt after a meal instead of for breakfast.

Continuing with sweets, crème au choco’ (chocolate pudding) uses chocolate from Marseille chocolatier Baleine à Cabosse. The coffee in the crème au café comes from local roaster Brulerie Moka. The popular riz au lait is made with rice from the Camargue. “For some customers, it’s a borderline disaster if we run out,” smiles Audrey. The laiterie has even tried their hand at ice cream. A huge hit, there’s plans to relaunch it this fall after their summer break.

Part of what makes the in-house products so delicious is the milk itself. “Cheese is 50% milk and 50% the work of the fromager,” explains Madeleine. “With bad milk, you can never make a good cheese.” Consequently, she and Audrey have forged strong relationships with farmers – paying them what they deserve at over twice the amount for standard milk prices.

Like a single-varietal wine, the duo also sticks to one breed – Alpine chèvre and Montbéliarde cows – to highlight the milk’s terroir-driven flavors. Ever conscientious, they source from only regional producers and adhere to the animals’ natural calendar of milk production. Brebis (sheep’s milk cheese) is fabricated from January to July, chèvre’s season falls between February and September and cow’s milk cheese is produced year-round.

Awareness of animal welfare is not something you’d find much of at supermarkets, which sells 80-90% of the cheese in France. This makes fromageries like Laiterie Marseillaise more essential than ever. More than a mere merchant, they support farmers, produce sustainably and teach customers about artisanal cheese. The all-female fromagerie also participates in community initiatives like farmers markets and the Refugee Food Festival.

The Laiterie Marseillaise is one of only ten French urban fromageries that fabricate in-house. A boon for Marseille. And for our bellies.

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