Imagine a bond between a young woman, her grandfather and the cheese shop he started in 1933. Imagine this bond so strong that she would leave her chosen career path to return home to Megève and follow in his footsteps when no one else in the family would.
Catherine Gaiddon did exactly that. Her love for cheese did the rest.
Dressed in stylish silver-colored sneakers and a neat black apron, she leads us down into the beautiful arched basement of Laiterie Gaiddon filled with huge loaves of Tomme and other cheeses from different local producers nearby. While the showroom upstairs, just a stone’s throw away from the beautiful main square in Megève, is bustling with customers she enjoys working downstairs in the cool, quiet space. ‘Her theatre’, as she calls it, gives her a feeling of serenity. After all, she has come a long way. When taking over the store she found herself on a very personal journey that helped her outgrow old beliefs and establish a new sense of self-esteem. In our interview, Catherine Gaiddon talks about her devotion to her grandfather and the very special talisman her father left her in the cheese cellar.
Did you always want to take over the family business?
Catherine Gaiddon: Well, my decision was really based on sentimental reasons … a kind of homage to my grandfather. I am very proud of him. He died when I was six years old. I decided to run the business to continue our family history so to speak.
What made you so proud of your grandfather?
Catherine Gaiddon: He started out at the family farm in Mont d’Arbois in 1933 with basically nothing. And slowly, he expanded. I have always been impressed by his courage. He also made butter and cheese and opened this shop to sell the products. When my father asked me whether I wanted to continue the business or whether he should sell everything, it was my heart that made me decide to take over….but my dream was to become an interpreter and work for the European Union.
How did you feel after making this big decision?
Catherine Gaiddon: Well, it kept me awake for a while. But my husband, who takes care of all the admin now, supported me a lot. Without him I could not have done it. There was a lot more work than we thought initially.
Did you have to negotiate very hard to follow your own vision with the business?
Catherine Gaiddon: My father is a very wise man regarding these things. He let me do my thing, but offered his help wherever he could. And I worked hard because I wanted my father to be proud of me. Mostly, because he belongs to a generation that does not talk so much, especially when it comes to sharing praise.
Your knowledge about cheese and running the business, was it hard work to catch up on that?
Catherine Gaiddon: I learned a lot by working with the producers and alongside my father initially. There was obviously a lot of trial an error involved. Like cutting the cheese with a thread. It took quite a few shots to figure out how to cut out pieces from those big loaves properly. You just have to keep on doing it until you know you got it right. With regards to running the administrative side of the business my studies in International Business came in quite handy.
Starting out – what was the hardest part?
Catherine Gaiddon: I always got the feeling that as a woman you have to do that little bit more to get recognized. When I went around with my father to buy cheese or discuss prices I had to deal with men most of the times. But they only spoke to my father. So I had to stand up for myself and let them know that I am the boss.
Also, I am younger than all my employees, so initially people did not come to me first when they had a question. That made me a little upset, but I am over that now. I just had to establish my place.
What did you learn about yourself doing this?
Catherine Gaiddon: That I had the capacity to do it but didn’t think I’d have it. Really, I have discovered my personal strength while doing this. And I am not talking about physical power. I feel much more self-confident. I usually say I do work like a man.
Do you have regrets of not having followed through with a career abroad?
Catherine Gaiddon: I have a close friend from England and she works for the EU. So she is my ‘hero for having made it’. Funny enough, she thinks exactly the same about me. She constantly reminds me of what I have achieved. I am not always fully aware of that.
Finding motivation to do what you do. How do you manage?
Catherine Gaiddon: It is my clients. If the business runs well, they are happy too. What is very important to me is to cultivate more awareness and appreciation around cheese. Good cheese is precious. Like wine, every good cheese has a story behind it … the people who work hard to make good things. That starts with the producer and ends at the crust. I do like food very much. I eat because it makes me feel good.
How do you think of your grandfather now, doing what he does?
Catherine Gaiddon: I still think about his courage and perseverance. When I am down, I remind myself of that and to not give up. You know, Laiterie Gaiddon is 82 years old. Just like the cable cars in Megève, they were established the same year.
If you have a wish what would it be?
Catherine Gaiddon: Although I still have many years of work ahead of me I would like the story to continue. But I only have one daughter. She is 17. So who knows what will happen … When my father retired in 1987 he left the last loaf of cheese he made in the cellar. It is still there. It is a kind of talisman for me. But if I put my finger on it, it will collapse.
Text: Sandra Pfeifer
Photos: Laiterie Gaiddon; David Payr // friendship.is
April 13, 2016