If industrial tourism is still a vague concept in France – we could willingly revisit it – there exist some bastions banking on a region’s traditions. When no longer dealing with isolated producers, but with a company, things are different. So, how does the company associate tradition with tourism, self-promotion with the defense of its know-how? Let’s go for a guided tour in the cellars.
Enter the charming village of Roquefort and you’ll get a slap in the face: lost on isolated land, the village suddenly takes you back to consumer society: crowded with tourists, posters and references to its cheese. Families on holidays and tourist coaches stopping there to visit the cellars.
Papillon is one of the most famous references of Roquefort cheese. More discreet and elitist – its sober and elegant Internet site proves it – than Société, its neighbor, leader of mass-market, Papillon offers you an invitation to discovery.
First of all, queue up in a concrete staircase. When you are well crammed, enter the projection room, a small room giving a preview of the next cellars. The guide lets you sit down and watch a video – a kind of improved slide-show of the 80’s – glorifying the A.O.C. label, the natural air conditioning from the fleurines (small cracks resulting from the mountain subsidence), the Lacaune breed ewes, the bounded territory of milk production, the milk transport, the rye bread – giving the penicillium roqueforti (the ingredient allowing the noble rot to develop)… all that can set things straight about blue cheese in your mind will be instilled into you. The video ends with a self-promotion of Papillon products: ewe cheeses (not only Roquefort) and the olive oil of the brand (this is far from being a region specialty, but Papillon owns an olive grove).
The guide comes back at the end of the video and drags you underground through small stairs to discover the famous, small, dark, fresh and humid cellars, through one floor after another which are all alike. You can see big wooden shelves where “loaves” of Roquefort rest. Don’t come between July and October when ewes keep their milk for their young… so, there is no cheese to admire! Some cracks in the walls allow you to see the famous fleurines.
But, oh poor tourist – “on a cultural tour” with grand-ma and your two kids – wake up, because the guide is willingly playing the schoolteacher. Questions burst forth. Did the audience learn the lesson about the A.O.C.? Once again, the guide talks about the A.O.C., shows you the bread turned black when digested by the bacteria. Then, you are freed and showed the way back that leads to the tasting room. A small piece or two for each visitor and a small piece of bread dipped in the Papillon olive oil. A little money basket appears once again at the goodbye time (the visit is free, please think about the guides ladies and gentlemen!) and here you are in front of the great display of the shop.
The offer is quite attractive. All the cheese varieties are here in different packaging. Freezer bags are already open. The nice and colored metal box, designed to welcome the “Taste Fromage”, the exceptional cheese of the range, gives you a wink. Bottles of the (excellent and fruity) olive oil smile to you. The Papillon knife is tempting you. In short, cheeses are here, by-products too.
Finally, we ask ourselves how the visit happens to enrich our vision of the company. After having heard the A.O.C being praised, we still wonder about the differences between Papillon and another A.O.C., the House specificities, its evolution, etc. And actually, why a Butterfly (Papillon means butterfly) as a name and logo? Luckily, a visitor asks the question. The answer is brief (at that time, houses used to have insects as emblems).
Papillon’s promise was to be more authentic. Maybe we should all the same prefer Société, with its “son et lumière” spectacle, its animated model of the mountains subsidence and its promise to let you encompass 2 000 years of history!