Getting to know the work of others in the cheese industry in order to improve collaboration.
The IPG has set up a pilot project in the form of meetings to strengthen the feeling of belonging to the cheese industry: three half-days, the first with an affineur, Fromco in Moudon, the second with a cheesemaker, Didier Germain from the Ponts-de-Martel cheese dairy and the last with a producer from La Sagne, Romane Botteron. This project, entitled "A la rencontre de la filière", is a continuation of the strategic study conducted by Triesse-Gressard between September 2019 and April 2022.
“The Interprofession is a community of interests around the same product."
Alexandre Horner, IPG-commissioned instructor
This first edition took place in the canton of Neuchâtel. Fifty eight members of the sector took part in one of the 4 sessions. “The Interprofession is a community of interests around the same product," explains Alexandre Horner, who set up the training course. “The members are not brought together by profession, but around the same cause, Le Gruyère AOP. It is therefore essential to get to know your partners to better understand the decisions taken within the IPG. Today, farmers are going to the dairy less and less. And they have no specific contact with the affineurs. These meetings have enabled everyone to get to know each other, to understand the quality requirements and constraints that everyone has to respect".
During these meetings, Alexandre Horner emphasised the role and governance of the IPG, touching on issues such as marketing, the market, and quantity and quality management. "The aim of these half-days was to enhance the feeling of belonging to the sector, to better respect each other so we can work together more effectively". The challenge is a major one, given that the industry is currently made up of over 2,000 self-employed workers and almost 5,000 jobs. It is therefore essential to bring people together. "What the people hosting the event have in common is their passion. The passion of the affineur, the cheesemaker and the producer", recalls the trainer.
The first half-day was spent visiting Fromco's maturing cellars. The participants particularly appreciated this, as they don't have the opportunity to accompany the product to this stage. So it was a rare opportunity to talk to a professional in the maturing process. Jean-Marc Collomb, former director of Fromco, welcomed the participants. "For me, the important thing is for everyone to know each other's business, and to be aware of the challenges and difficulties of each activity. It's often said that all the maturer has to do is sell. It's not that simple. There are risks that only the affineur can take. I really enjoyed these meetings, because we were able to discuss some fundamental issues."
A week later, the participants set off for Les Ponts-de-Martel to visit Didier Germain's cheese dairy. "I emphasised the know-how involved in producing the cheese and the cheesemaker's role in lactic fermentation. We don't talk much about it, even though it's the heart of the product. It was a great pleasure to meet these professionals, because they were curious and interested, and they realised what was involved. I was delighted. One of the questions I asked was symptomatic: why is the cheesemaker angry when the producers come late? It's not because he wants to get to the aperitif as quickly as possible. It's because the process is already underway and once the cheese-making has started, it's the production that decides the pace."
Romane and Meryl Botteron gave the 4 groups of cheesemakers and milk producers a tour of their estate. They showed them the dairy cattle and calves, the technical facilities, the milking parlour and the robot scraper. "We were keen to showcase a farm that makes the most of its grassland. We focused on the quality of the basic fodder that forms the link with the land and enables us to produce quality milk at an affordable price. For us, 90% of the grass consumed by our cattle comes from our own farm. Our dairy cows only receive 10% concentrate to balance and optimise the ration. Last year, we were almost self-sufficient, feeding them virtually on a closed circuit. The same goes for the fertilisers, which come almost exclusively from the farm, making the most of our farmyard manure on our natural meadows. Real sustainability."
Eve Chédel and Marlène Guenat, both milk producers at Les Bayards for the Duo-Vallon cheese dairy, took part in these meetings to find out more about the structure they are part of: "When I get up in the morning, I know that I'm the only one looking after my animals," smiles Eve Chédel. "But I'm aware that I'm a cog in the wheel and that my farm is part of a whole that has to work. As I sit on the committee of the Société de laiterie (Dairy Company), there are issues that come up throughout the year. Thanks to these meetings, I'm better able to put them into context."
As for Marlène Guenat, who is also secretary of the Duo Vallon cheese dairy, she keeps a close eye on what's going on at the IPG. So it was only natural for her to sign up for the course, along with her daughter and son, who work in the same field. "I enjoyed getting to know other farmers and gaining a better understanding of the work of cheesemakers and maturers and the realities they face on a daily basis. In particular, I was surprised to learn that the maturers knew almost a year in advance how much cheese they were going to sell."
Tony Blättler, an organic milk producer from Les Sagnettes, has been the young president of the Dairy Company since 1 January this year. Taking part in these meetings was an opportunity for him to gain some experience and learn about the various stages involved in making our hard cheese. "I had no idea that there were so many Le Gruyère AOP cheeses from so many different dairies in a single maturing cellar, as is the case at Fromco! I had the chance to visit Margot SA in private and compare the two very different maturing systems." Tony Blättler also appreciated the exchanges between producers and cheesemakers: "In La Brévine, winter is harsh and it's cold. These meetings were a welcome break at this time of year. Every week, we'd go to another place for half a day, and that gave me a chance to get away from work and discover other realities."
For Yann Aeby, milk producer for the La Brévine cheese dairy, these meetings were also constructive: "During the busy season, we don't take much time to talk to other people. These half-days gave us the opportunity to see our colleagues and talk to each other over and above the lessons, which were extended with a meal. The discussions were rich. We felt that we were all in the same boat. I was also able to see how useful the Interprofession is. It's a job that isn't widely recognised by some people who aren't aware of what goes on behind the scenes.”
These testimonials reflect the results of the survey carried out at the end of the course. The positive results of this project have convinced the IPG to extend this approach next winter to the cantons of Vaud, Fribourg, Jura and Jura bernois. The IPG will be offering this meeting to its satellites the following winter. There could be 25 sessions, enabling 500 members of the cheese industry to take part, in groups of 20 people.