Slow News Day: Are the French Losing their Cheese Edge?

While some American farmers are just discovering the joys and products of old-fashioned, methodical cheesemaking — employing ones own cows, sheep and goats — some in France are rigthfully worried that that country is losing its traditional methods, along with some of its long-time producers. One family that has been making cheese since Charlemagne’s 9th century rule, is in its last generation of cheesemakers.

Blame increasing globalization of both palate and distribution. Near-ubiquitous use of pasteurization has also moved the French away from unique raw-milk cheeses and toward blander packaged fare. As a result, the very people who coined the term terroir (meaning that the food reflects the region in which it was produced, say as a result of specific grass munched by local cows) are in danger of losing their most unique geographically-based cheeses.

Why should we care? If you love cheese, of course, you likely treasure the small-batch, hand-made varieties from the farmer’s own hands and farm. They’re more special and rare; they taste more distinct, reflecting the land and the care — sometimes two years of processing and storing — that went into them. This trend extends beyond cheese, of course, and represents a loss of long-time tradition and craftsmanship as well as a diminishment in the appreciation of a fine product, which leads to the demise of that product itself. Remember when cars were more stylish? Clothing better made?

This fine article explains the cheese situation in more depth.

The only thing one can do on this (or any) side of the pond? Gather up a good French cheese, like the Comte Les Trois Comptois (a nutty, floral raw milk gruyere), a sturdy baguette, and a bottle of wine, and do your part to keep unique, terroir French cheeses alive.

Photos: Keith Weller, Susan Sachs Lipman

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10 responses to “Slow News Day: Are the French Losing their Cheese Edge?

  1. quite possibly.
    other countries sure are beginning to catch up

  2. <<>>

    I can do that! ;)
    Happy to do my part this time!

  3. Yes. We had a very hard time in Paris actually finding a great cheese shop. They are few and far between now. Have you read Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France?
    It does a great job of talking about how France has lost its culinary way.

  4. Hi! Great to hear from you all. Something about cheese seems to get people to visit and weigh in!

    kseverny, what a beautiful blog! The pictures are beyond mouth-watering. Yum.

    Annica, thanks, as always, for your good cheer! I love your post on aphrodisiacs. Just in time for Valentine’s Day! You always have such great information on herbs, lore, recipes, etc.

    Becca, great to see you, too! Very interesting that you couldn’t find a cheese shop in Paris! That’s almost incomprehensible, when I know there are good ones in SF, LA and NY. I didn’t know about Au Revoir to All That. It sounds like a must-read. Thank you for that.

  5. I haven’t been to Paris in a while, but I can think of three cheese shops right off the top of my head, and I bet they’re all still there. Sometimes you just don’t get lucky.

    I’m astonished at some of the stuff in French supermarkets, as well as the fact that it’s about equal in cost to what’s available elsewhere. The only thing that’s *not* available is the time to go to those elsewheres, and I’m torn as to whether that’s a good thing or not. In order to pursue the traditional marketing, you either have to have a very flexible schedule, like I do, or else tether your woman to the household, which I don’t think any of us thinks is a good idea.

    I do think, however, based on what I see around me, that there’s a healthy number of people of all ages who still patronize the traditional outlets. In the covered market near my house, for instance, there’s a cheesemonger who might as well be a supermarket, since he carries some British and Dutch and Italian and Spanish cheeses. All of superb high quality, but he’s smart enough to know that being stick-in-the-mud French about it will lose him customers. I’ve seen teenagers and very elderly people all shopping from him, and I’ve seen almost the same spread at the twice-weekly market I attend, with the lower end of the age demographic upped to maybe 25.

    It’s a problem, don’t get me wrong: the number-one best-selling beverage of any kind in France at the moment is, unquestionably, Coke Zero. There’s always a line at the MacDo on the square, and yeah, people buy Laughing Cow cheese (La vache qui rit), but I don’t think it’s time to give up just yet.

  6. Pingback: Slow News Day: Are the French Losing their Cheese Edge? « Slow … | France Today

  7. Hi Ed! Thank you so much for this wonderful post! I had a feeling you might be weighing in with some French perspective. It sounds like there are a lot of trends happening at once there — the march of globalization, a willingness to expand beyond the French palate, some enjoyment of convenience, and yet, the appreciation of artisan products by people of all ages. A real mix!

    I can see why people bemoan the loss of long-time farming families or traditional methods in a region that so prides itself on both. Good news, though, that you can still find terrific cheese if you want it!

  8. I think I might head out to my local cheese/wine store and pick up something yummy for the weekend! Thanks for the inspiration.

  9. I think a pairing of CHEESE & Tequila is due for a “play’ on the “Tequila Whisperer” show!

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