It all started in 1865 when Jules Bel decided to found a traditional cheese company (gruyere) in Orgelet, a small town in Jura, France, in the foothills of the French Alps, renowed for its dairy and cheese.
Thirty years later his two sons, Henri and Léon, inherited the company and relocated it to a bigger town, Lons-Le-Saunier. The presence of a salt company and the proximity of the railroad held importance in this decision, making the moving of the Bel company a strategic choice for transportation but also because salt is an important ingredient in the making of cheese.
Léon Bel drew on his own experience to create the brand. During World War I, Léon was affected to the logistic corps of the army. Soldiers started to draw humoristic symbols on the logistic buses, to identify the different units. The commanding officer of wrote to Benjamin Rabier, a famous illustrator, to create their symbol. In response, Rabier sent the drawing of a laughing cow, which was given the name of «La Wachkyrie» by one of the unit soldier in reference to the «Walkyrie», Wagner’s opera so loved by the German army. In phonetic, “Wachkyrie” equals “Vache qui rit” (Laughing cow).
Right after the first World War, Léon Bel met the Swiss Graf family who imported processed cheese from Switzerland to Jura during the war. Convinced by the potential of the invention, Léon started his own brand with the help of the Grafs. In 1921, The Laughing Cow® cheese was born.
In 1923, Léon Bel got inspired to change the brand logo. The cow, formerly standing on all fours, was reduced to a close up of her head by Benjamin Rabier. It’s the printer Vercasson who gave its red color to Rabier’s drawing and rumor has it that it was Leon’s wife who suggested the earrings to add a female touch to the cow!
In 1924, three years after production started, Léon Bel equiped its facilities with modern machines, allowing to increase productivity while improving working conditions for employees. The first machines manufacturing the triangular portion as we know it today were also designed during this period. 2 years later, still in Lons-Le-Saunier, a brand new and very modern plant was built.
Through time the company, called Bel Group, expanded all over the world, starting in the UK in 1929 and Belgium in 1933. In the 70’s, The Laughing Cow® set off to conquer Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East as well as the USA. In the 90’s, it began its expansion in Asia.
The creation of a dedicated R&D center in 1958 in Lons-le-Saunier reinforced this spirit and enabled the brand to extend its offering. Léon Bel was a pioneer of processed cheese, and he revolutionized consumption by offering a transportable and reservable cheese. Innovation is at the heart of The Laughing Cow® mindset. The original recipe in triangular portion evolved, with the launch of The Laughing Cow® light in 1988, new recipes enriched with essential nutrients and reduced fat and salt. Even new flavours appeared in the portfolio to match consumers’ preferences all around the world.
Today, around 10 million portions are sold every day in 136 different countries, making The Laughing Cow® the 4th biggest cheese brand in the world and 15 plants are producing The Laughing Cow® cheese across 4 continents.