A Chat With Hong Kong’s Curd Nerd, Jeremy Evrard
Jeremy Evrard was at the peak of happiness when we met him on a Thursday afternoon at Upper Modern Bistro. His weekly shipment of cheeses had just come in. “On Wednesdays, I am not smiling,” he says as he caresses and sniffs a chunk of Comté. Evrard, who has recently joined the French restaurant’s team as general manager, is to cheese what a sommelier is to wine; the turophile’s passion for cheese is almost as strong as the pungent smells seeping out of his refrigerator (or his little playground, as he likes to call it). Below, Evrard steps away from his edible gallery of French fromages to tell us about what he’s bringing to Hong Kong’s cheese scene.
Hong Kong Tatler Dining: So…why cheese?
Jeremy Evrard: I grew up on a farm, where I was always around cows and dairy. However, my real interest in cheese only came when I was 23 and started working in a restaurant in the Southwest of France. I became fascinated with all sorts of food products. I would visit farms around the area, and I soon realised that I’m very sensitive to dairy products.
HKTD: And how much cheese do you eat a day?
JE: Ooh lala. I spend a lot of time preparing cheeses, and I always end up trying them all. Let’s just say I’m a high consumer of cheese. I love dairy products. I can eat four to five cups of yogurt a day.
HKTD: Where do get your cheeses come from, and how do you source them?
JE: To get unpasteurised cheeses, you have to know the farmer, because you can’t buy them in public stores. However, Hong Kong is great because you can import everything you want. I work with 40 to 45 farmers in all regions of France, some of whom I know from when I was a child. I work with a middleman, who gets the cheeses from all of them and delivers them to me in one shipment.
HKTD: What process do you have to go through to store and maintain the freshness of the cheeses?
JE: I have around 30 cheeses here in the restaurant that I keep in a temperature-controlled refrigerator. My new shipment of cheeses comes in every Thursday, and by Tuesday you’ll notice the fridge will be almost empty (and my mood will not be too great). Unpasteurized cheeses need to live amongst each other, and their bacteria needs to fly around, so a smaller environment works well for this. I place moist green moss in the fridge to act as a natural humidifier.
HKTD: How do you go about crafting your cheese platters?
JE: Dairy is alive and it’s constantly developing. There’s always the perfect moment for cheese to be served. I ask guests what they do and do not like. Some may say that they don’t like goat milk cheese, but I’ll put one on there anyways without telling them. What happens? They end up liking it, because it’s not like the stuff you get at the supermarket. I talk to my customer to get a feel, analyze the environment and the specific moment, and based on that I make the selection of cheese.
HKTD: How do you most enjoy your cheese?
JE: I eat cheese just as is, and if I have a glass of wine, then I’ll take that too. I keep the creative stuff for when I’m in the restaurant. At home, I take the cheese, a knife, and voila. I also enjoy a bowl of pasta with cheese and a bit of ham. And why not mushrooms…and a bit of cream.
HKTD: What is the most memorable cheese you’ve ever tasted?
JE: It was a bleu de Termignon cheese from the French alps. It’s naturally blue without adding the Penicillium mold to it. The flavour of the cow milk was there, and there was a flavourful kick to it that wasn’t too aggressive. I’ve only ever had it once in my life. What makes it so special is that it’s disappearing. There aren’t enough young people today who want to take over farms, so many cheeses are dying. It’s all about quantity and profits today, and we’re losing interest in the artisanal world. There are only two farmers that still produce this cheese, and even they are approaching retirement.