Saulxures-sur-Moselotte (France) (AFP)

By forgetting a batch of cheeses during confinement in a corner of their cellar, Lionel and Laura Vaxelaire, dairy farmers in Saulxures-sur-Moselotte (Vosges), created a new variety, which they of course called "Le confined" .

"The confined arrived like that, there was nothing planned," says Lionel Vaxelaire, 41, preparing the narrow summer milking parlor at the foot of the pastures, at an altitude of 670 meters.

In front of the door, 25 cows of the Vosges breed, black and white dress, spotted heads, wait in the misty and damp early morning.

With his wife Laura, 36 years old, Mr. Vaxelaire transforms each year around 90,000 liters of milk into farmhouse munster AOC, Vosges tommes (plain or scented bargkass and "Massive heart"), fresh cheeses, "petits blancs" and yogurts, sold on the farm, in markets and to intermediaries.

In mid-March, when confinement was declared due to the Covid-19 epidemic, "sales fell by 80% in the first fortnight", recalls the farmer.

In the small cellar installed next to the processing workshop, in the old hayloft, the bargkass, munster and other cheeses were piling up. “Every day we made cheese without knowing what it was going to be like, without having sales,” he continues.

- Isolated in the cellar -

The couple juggle between milking cows morning and evening, caring for heifers and calves and deliveries to the surrounding villages. "We no longer had time to do everything", summarizes Mr. Vaxelaire.

A batch of around sixty cheeses is found in a corner of the cellar, abandoned ... but not unattended.

According to the specifications, an AOC Munster is drained, washed and salted before being placed on metal racks for refining, which lasts at least three weeks. Every two or three days, Laura Vaxelaire rubs it gently with clean water and turns it over.

"The confined", he received no attention. "We let it mature quietly for four weeks without intervening", explains Mr. Vaxelaire, white T-shirt with the head of a Vosges cow under a green combination.

After a month, the couple taste a piece of cheese on which a spotty gray rind has developed. "It is a cheese with a bloomy rind, which is not usual in the Vosges, slightly chalky and a little runny under the rind. The new cheese has taken all the flora of our milk and the atmosphere of the cellar, without being taken care of, ”describes the breeder.

"Its taste is nice", validated by their two children aged 12 and 14, adds his wife.

- Infatuation -

Giving it the name "The confined" - since filed at the National Institute of Industrial Property - has become obvious. "We were in confinement and we made him undergo isolation in the cellar," smiles Laura Vaxelaire.

"It's a cheese a bit by chance, there would not have been the confinement, it would not have seen the light of day," she adds.

"The confined", sold 12 euros per kilo (against 13 euros for traditional Munster), immediately meets with great success with consumers, to such an extent that production is just in time. To meet demand, the curing time has been reduced to eight or fifteen days and the couple plan to produce around forty kilos per week.

"We would like to find the character it had at the beginning, but we are running out of time", summarize the Vaxelaires, whose farm extends over 80 hectares in the Ballons des Vosges regional natural park.

"The creation of + Confiné + reveals a positive side (of the coronavirus epidemic) that people needed", observes the couple, amused by the media success in France and abroad of their cylindrical cheese.

The arrival of "Confiné" on the French cheese board is also a way for the Vaxelaires to promote the Vosges and the Vosges cow, "very good walker and resistant".

© 2020 AFP