French cheese Cow who laughs: 100 and still laughing

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Published on: 04/17/2021 – 14:33

                En France, réputée pour sa richesse en fromages au lait cru, l'un des plus populaires et des plus renommés à l'étranger est un quartier tartinable de la variété pasteurisée, connue sous le nom de <em>La Vache qui rit</em> (La vache qui rit).  Inventée il y a 100 ans dans le Jura, dans l'est de la France, sa recette précise reste un secret bien gardé.  Mais quel est le secret de son succès?  
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                                    <p>Lorsque le général Charles de Gaulle se serait demandé comment on pouvait "gouverner un pays avec 258 variétés de fromages", il se serait peut-être trompé sur le chiffre, mais il y a des chances <em>La Vache qui rit</em> n'était pas sur sa liste.

Can the creamy, spreadable and processed product in silver packaging even be considered cheese?

It contains cheese and it was invented by a cheese maker and not by a panel of marketing experts.

The story first appeared in the Spotlight on France podcast. Listen now:

Spotlight on episode 53 of France
Spotlight on episode 53 of France
Spotlight on episode 53 of France © RFI

Modern cheese

It all started 100 years ago, on April 16, 1921, when Léon Bel filed the patent for his cheese recipe.

He came up with the idea of ​​making the cheese after the Graf brothers, born in Switzerland, imported the technique to the Jura region a few years earlier, and realized that it could be the solution for the company. ailing cheese maker from her family. At the end of the First World War, the Bel cheese factory found itself struggling with large wheels of county cheese he couldn’t sell.

In a ‘if you can’t move it, improve it’ spirit, Bel started blending hard cheeses like county and Gruyère with milk and butter at high temperatures, giving a uniform dough, stable and easy to store without refrigeration.

This cheese caused a kind of revolution in France at the time, although Bel was not the only one to make it. But he found a way to make his product stand out from the crowd.

Poster by illustrator Benjamin Rabier for "The Laughing Cow" cheese.
Poster by illustrator Benjamin Rabier for "The Laughing Cow" cheese.
Poster by illustrator Benjamin Rabier for “La Vache qui Rit” cheese. © Benjamin Rabier / BNF / Wikimedia Commons.

A cow is born

The first one Laughing cow was sold in a round metal tin with Bel’s own design of a red cow, standing on all fours, behind a sign with the product name on it.

But in 1923, he decided he needed a makeover and turned to illustrator Benjamin Rabier who gave the cow a friendlier and more human face.

Bel’s wife is believed to have encouraged him to add cheese earrings to make the cow appear more feminine. The earrings created a kind of endless image in an image, which occupied generations of children who were bored on car trips and on picnics.

As to why the cow laughs, legend has it that during World War I Leon Bel saw a meat wagon with a smiling ox on the side. A soldier nicknamed him the Wachkyrie, in reference to the Valkyries, so dear to the Germans, and who turned into Laughing cow.

The making of an icon

In 1924, The Laughing Cow was packaged in its now deposited round cardboard boxes in eight individually wrapped silver corners.

The cheese was quickly rolled out to international markets, and thanks to Bel’s marketing skills, the image became something of an icon. In the 1930s, there were frontier cows sporting a range of promotional items.

The cow even took part in the debut of the radio commercial with the song It’s the Laughing Cow (It’s the Laughing Cow), by Jean Rodor, performed by the aptly named Constantine the Laughing.

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<h2><strong>Un succès international</strong> </h2><em>La Vache qui rit </em>est maintenant vendu dans 136 pays, sous une variété de noms différents (<em>La vache qui rit </em>en Allemagne, <em>Bébé bouilli</em> au Vietnam).  Seule une petite partie de la production est encore fabriquée en France, dans le Jura.

The biggest consumers of this pasteurized French invention are found in Algeria and Morocco, the French in third position.

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A Vache Qui Rit decorated vehicule on the Tour de France cycle race, July 3 2008 in Brest, western France,
A Vache Qui Rit decorated vehicule on the Tour de France cycle race, July 3 2008 in Brest, western France,
A Vache Qui Rit decorated vehicule on the Tour de France cycle race, July 3 2008 in Brest, western France, © AFP – JOEL SAGET
    </div>Dans sa forme la plus pure, les grands chefs de France ne sont pas opposés aux charmes de la vache qui rit.

Michelin-starred French chef Hélène Darroze has fond memories of her grandmother’s pumpkin soup in which sour cream has been replaced by a triangle of The Laughing Cow.

“I carry on the tradition with my daughter,” she told The Laughing Cow museum in Lons-le-Saunier where Léon Bel opened his first factory.


This story is part of the Spotlight on France podcast.

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