Cheese Whiz: A French-born, Palos Verdes Resident Follows Family Footsteps with a Mastery of Goat Cheese

A French-born Palos Verdes resident follows in his late father’s footsteps and creates a goat cheese empire along with the help of his own family.

WRITTEN BY JENNIE NUNN | PHOTOGRAPHED BY SHANE O’DONNELL


Twenty-eight years ago Arnaud Solandt, president and cofounder of Montchevre Goat Cheese, scoured every imaginable inch of the country in search of the perfect location to establish a goat cheese plant.

“I came across an abandoned, 4,000-square-foot cheddar plant in Preston, Wisconsin, and a small goat dairy co-op that would sell milk to us,” says the Palos Verdes-based resident, who grew up in Montauban—a small town in Southwestern France. “We started by making three products with two employees in our little plant. Today we have over 400 farms, manufacture more than 50 different goat cheese varieties and are the leader in the U.S. goat cheese market.”

But Arnaud’s journey didn’t come without a series of life challenges and hardships. “I really did not know I would end up in this industry,” he recounts. “I did not have a very clear career path. Maybe business or architecture?

However, life took me on this unexpected path.”

A little more than two years after moving to the United States with his family, Arnaud’s father was killed in a car accident. At the time Arnaud was attending community college to hone his English skills with a plan to attend a four-year college or university.

“My father was importing French cheeses, and I had to take his job to help provide for my family,” he explains. “A few years later the EU was threatening to place tariffs on imported cheeses, which got me thinking, ‘Why not make my own cheese in the U.S. to avoid this?’”

The family-owned company—now located in Belmont, Wisconsin—has grown to 300 employees and 400 individual family farms. “I love working with our farmers to create a strong network of sustainable goat dairy farms, and our farmers are in part what makes us successful and separates us from the rest,” he says.

“Growing up, I was pretty embarrassed by the fact that my parents were French with heavy accents and had a goat cheese company.”

He has also modified some of the French cheeses and introduced 50 variations of goat cheeses in flavors including pomegranate, apricot and sage, candied cranberry, honey, lemon, and fig and olive. “I love to adapt French cheeses so that they appeal to the American palate, and through the years we’ve added a vast variety of flavors to our cheeses so that Americans wouldn’t be intimidated by the product.”

Arnaud believes another success factor for the company is his own family. His wife, mother and brother have all worked for the company, and his daughter, Melanie Considine—Montchevre’s marketing manager—joined the team in 2012. Her husband, Pat, also works on the Montchevre sales team.

“Growing up, I was pretty embarrassed by the fact that my parents were French with heavy accents and had a goat cheese company,” Melanie says. “It really sounds crazy now, as I couldn’t be more proud of everything that they have accomplished. People didn’t eat goat cheese the way they do now, and I was being ridiculous in wanting to be like everyone else.”

Melanie, who majored in communications at St. Lawrence University, started by learning the basics of day-to-day company operations, processing purchase orders, and responding to customer calls and emails before carving her role in marketing. “My dad’s dedication to his farmers and his employees—as well as his commitment to a high-quality product—has changed the goat cheese game. People are eating more goat cheese than ever in the U.S., and Montchevre is the largest goat cheese manufacturer. How could I not be proud?”

This year the company—whose savory, non-GMO selections span goat milk cheddar sticks, a 4-ounce fresh truffle log, sundried tomato basil crumbles and goat milk blue cheese—introduced a 5.5-ounce creamy goat milk brie housed in a rustic, farmhouse-like wooden box.

“Being innovative and coming up with new products for American consumers to enjoy is what I love most,” Arnaud adds. “Some people have a misconception about goat cheese and think that they don’t like it. When those people try our product and like our cheese, it really makes my day.”

 

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