North Koreans snubbed by French cheese college

A bid by North Korea to send experts to a prestigious French cheese-making training school, seemingly at the behest of its fromage-loving leader King Jong-un, has been rejected. It did not fit with the institution's "priorities or strategy", it seems.

North Koreans snubbed by French cheese college
Kim Jong-un's bid to send two North Koreans to learn how to make French cheese has been refused by a prestigious French college. Photos: Zennie62/Amandabhslater/Flickr

There was bad news for cheese lovers in North Korea this week, including Kim Jong-un  – a supposed Emmental aficionado, when a French college refused to take on three experts from the People’s Republic.

Two officials from North Korea visited the National Dairy Industry College (ENIL), based in Mamirolle, Franche-Comté last month in the hope of sending experts to the college to receive specialist instruction in the the art of making French fromage.

French social media went into meltdown on Tuesday when it was reported that the school had accepted North Korea's bid to promote "cheese diplomacy".

But on Tuesday the director of ENIL Véronique Drouet moved quickly to deny the deal, telling AFP that it simply wasn’t feasible to train the Koreans and their request had been politely but firmly declined.

“I think they thought they had found a school that would suit them and they thought there would be no question the partnership would work,” said Drouet.

But “there is no basis to go further with North Korea because such a partnership does not fit into our priorities and strategy,” she added.

Drouet said ENIL, which trains 600 students in cheese production, does have several international partnerships but they are mostly in relation to links already set up via the regional authorities of Franche-Comté.   

“We don’t have a vocation to train foreign students, we are a little school on a human scale. We can’t just expand to all four corners of the world. We have to prioritize our existing partners,” she said.

“I didn’t see the interest in it because it seemed difficult to me to send my students to do an internship in North Korea,” she added. “But it’s always good to know that we are well known,” she joked.

The snub will be a disappointment to North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un, who is believed to have become a huge fan of Switzerland’s Emmental cheese, a taste that was developed during the time that he studied there.

Some high-profile North Koreaens have been allowed to study in France. In December last year The Local reported how Kim Jong-un's nephew Kim Han-sol, who is doing a degree at the renowned Sciences Po university, had to be placed under police guard after his uncle and several of his allies were executed.

SEE ALSO: Kim Jong-un's nephew 'under police guard' in France

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Why is everyone in France talking about Mont d’Or cheese today?

Mont d’Or cheese is a French treasure you can only find at a specific time of the year. But why's that?

Why is everyone in France talking about Mont d’Or cheese today?
A Mont d'Or cheese. Photo: AFP

Today is the day!

September 10th marks the beginning of the sale of the famous Mont d’Or cheese in France.

This rich cheese with a rich history borrows its name from the highest point of the Doubs département (located in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region in Eastern France) and goes way back since it was already mentioned in the 1280 Encyclopédie des Fromages (the Cheese Encyclopeadia).  


You can also find it under the name Vacherin, but rather in Switzerland than in its original region.

Though it is much loved, the Mont d’Or cheese is also much awaited as it can only be savoured from September 10th to May. Here’s why.

A seasonal cheese

The Mont d’Or was first created after peasants looked to create a smaller cheese with their “winter milk”, as the production was reduced during the coldest months. A raw milk that, according to the Fromagerie La Ferté, gives it a “texture that offers a soft and creamy consistency without being too runny”.

It can only be produced from August 15th to March 31st, hence why its appearances in dairies are seasonal.

Consequently, it became a winter cheese and could not be produced in the summer since it can’t handle hot temperatures. During spring and summer, where milk is more abundant, Comté cheese is made. 

READ ALSO: This is how much the French are obsessed with cheese

Specific production process

But other than being unobtainable during the sunny months, its making process also follows a list of specifications since it has both the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée and the Appelation d’Origine Protégée.

These designations attest to the authenticity of the product and of the savoir-faire of its producers while protecting its name not only in France but in the entire European Union.

The Mont d’Or can then only be produced in a designated area of 95 Haut-Doubs municipalities – all at least 700 metres above sea level – and made at of raw milk from grass-fed Montbeliarde or French Simmental herds.

A woman cutting the spruce straps that circle the Mont d'Or cheese. Photo: AFP

The cheese is also supported by a circle of spruce wood to provide it from running. After at least a 12-day maturing (during which the cheese is scrubbed daily with salted water), the Mont d’Or terminates its ripening process in a slightly smaller spruce box that gives it its wrinkled crust as a nod to the mountain it took its name from.

But these many specificities do not prevent producers from delivering (on average) 5,500 tonnes of Mont d’Or each year.