Master cheesemaker Bernard Antony, from Alsace, will be providing the cheese selection for tonight’s state banquet at the Palace of Versailles to mark the first official visit of King Charles to France - just as he served Queen Elizabeth in 1994.
Mr Antony is one of many top-level artisans recruited for tonight’s lavish occasion but he is among the most experienced with royalty having served Queen Elizabeth II at a dinner with the then President Mitterand to mark the inauguration of the Channel Tunnel in 1994.
"Contrary to the usual view that you can't find good food in England, it's totally untrue, you can find great products there and especially great cheese," he told local newspaper L'Alsace.
The international language of cheese
The platter will include the English cheese Stilchelton, a raw cow’s milk blue cheese from Stilton, and two French classics: goat cheese from Cévennes and aged Comté, France’s most popular AOP cheese.
The three cheeses are unpasteurised and a way for Mr Antony to honour King Charles’ defence of raw milk products, his son Jean-François Antony told The Connexion.
“King Charles is one of the first to have stood up for raw milk cheese, we are very honoured. That is why we included Stilchelton, out of respect,” he said.
He said that his father would always have served unpasteurised cheese: “Raw milk cheese is the only real cheese there is. There is just something missing if the milk is pasteurised, we don’t call it cheese.”
King Charles, who is accompanied by Queen Camilla, has been especially active in his support of traditional cheese and raw milk cheese in particular. After a food hygiene scare in the early 1990s, a ban on unpasteurised cheese was a possibility.
At a gala in Paris in 1992, he spoke out against EU plans on cheese restriction. Not only did he defend French cheese, he did so while speaking French. You can watch a video of this here:
Thanks to the efforts of the then Prince of Wales, raw milk cheeses were protected and the industry is now thriving. During his first state visit in Germany in March this year, the King notably visited a farm where he participated in making a ‘royal cheese’.
An occasion to showcase French cuisine
The 150 guests for tonight’s dinner are reported to include Mick Jagger, actor Hugh Grant, actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, former tennis champion Amélie Mauresmo, the (often) world’s richest person Bernard Arnault and head of the 2024 Paris Olympics, Tony Estanguet.
Tonight the cheese selected by Mr Antony was produced by local artisans and extremely rare. The comté, for example, is a special batch prepared in 2020 with only 300 wheels.
That is why only 5.5 kilos of it will be served (25 grams per person). The three cheeses will be accompanied by mirabelle jam prepared by Laurent Arbeit de Sierentz, a chef who is also from Alsace.
The full menu will feature a first course of blue lobster and crab from Brittany, a main dish of AOC Bresse chicken and an Ispahan for dessert, a delicacy built with macarons. The meal will be served with a Bordeaux wine.
The cheese platter will be served in the French tradition, between the main course and dessert, instead of after dessert as is the British style.
In addition to helping repair French-UK diplomatic relations after Brexit, the state dinner is also a way for President Macron to showcase traditional French products and expertise.
In the next two days King Charles will be visiting the vineyard where tonight’s wine was produced, the Olympic village and Notre-Dame Cathedral.