Creating a cheese is always the work of people who shape a region and are part of a larger story connecting them to the land and the animals on it, be they medieval monks, buronniers employed by rich families in the 19th and 20th centuries or the salaried employees who participate in making Laguiole cheese today. They include André Valadier, a key player in Aubrac's life for decades.
The Jeune Montagne cooperative, which a handful of cheese-makers created under the leadership of André Valadier, has enabled Laguiole production to climb back up to its early 20th century level. It is hard not to mention Valadier, who revived "his" mountain, where his own cows graze, and with it all the surrounding ones. He was on the front lines of the battle that allowed the Jeune Montagne cooperative to become successful and provide producers with a livelihood for decades. Two major decisions come to mind.
First, when the State established a milking cow bonus that threatened to lure many farmers away, the cooperative defended itself by offering a bonus with the same amount to producers who would otherwise have bolted from their ranks. Next, when milk quotas threatened to undermine the producers' budget, the cooperative pooled the penalties entailed to keep them afloat in order to help save the company and the industry.
Today, as the Laguiole cheese association's president he focuses on the Laguiole AOP and takes an active part in the thinking about AOPs nationally. He is also a proponent of the Aubrac Regional Natural Park project.
« "I'm from Aubrac. I was born 10 km from Laguiole into a family that has been breeding cattle, from generation to generation, since the 12th century. I grew up on a small farm in contact with cows from a very early age. As soon as we were old enough to be a little independent, my parents had us looking after the livestock and giving them water to drink. Then they had us helping out with all the farm chores even when school was in session. School wasn't considered a full-time affair for the children of my generation: we had to work, too. So I gradually followed in my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents' footsteps. I don't regret it because now I can say that I witnessed developments that changed civilisation: the transition from animal to mechanical power is something that transcends a change of generation…
I was head of the Jeune Montagne cooperative for 48 years. Then, as president of the AOP Laguiole, where production methods were probably pretty much the same in 1950 as they had been in 1750, suddenly we hit upon the idea of an elaborated craft, not an industrial concept. To me, craftsmanship isn't archaic. I also had many varied responsibilities at the Crédit Agricole, the Chamber of Agriculture and the INAO [National Institute for Origins and Quality]. I served in public office, as a mayor for 35 years and a member of the Midi-Pyrénées regional council with responsibility for agriculture and the rural economy for 18 years. The contacts I had made as president of the INAO's national dairy product committee enabled me to assess the dimensions and timeliness of the designation of origin idea: after 20 years of experience and over 40 AOP cheeses, I was in a good position to make comparisons. That's when it dawned on me that you can't just settle for obtaining a designation of origin logo by decree, and above all you can't pretend. Our idea is that you have to go all the way, not just with production but also genetics, the cows' diet, the use of raw milk only, and so forth." »