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SF Bay Area, California, USA
November 06
Slow Family Online
Northern California writer, soapcrafter, jammaker, hiker, retro enthusiast, slow parent & cheesehound. Author, Fed Up With Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World (2012). Social Media Director for the Children & Nature Network. See more writing at

Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 9, 2010 10:31AM

Are the French Losing their Cheese Edge?

Rate: 5 Flag

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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Hope they haven't bastardized Brillat Savarin. That was always our favorite indulgence.
Zyskandar - Nancy's, eh? I'll have to check them out. I *love* camembert and if you say it's the best, I'm on my way. Sounds like you've had quite a trajectory since the Velveeta days!

Pilgrim, I haven't had Brillat Savarin in ages! I wonder, too, if it's changed. There are still plenty of great smallish-batch cheeses, of course. We'll hope the Brillat is among them.
That's rather heartbreaking. The masterful skill of these craftsmen and the uniqueness of these regional products is an overwhelming loss. I'll gladly do my part. It will be my pleasure.
Yum Yum... nothing quite as yummy as the cheese I had in the French Alps when I visited in 2003.... I'll always remember that wonderful, soft, fragrant cheese and those cows roaming around the mountains with those cowbells. I think they were cooperatively held cheese-making cows or something if I recall correctly... their main purpose in life was cheese!!! And they just roamed freely. Seems to me the cow bells might have sounded different depending upon the farm??? I would enjoy more French Cheese stories such as this one if you have anymore. Made me wish I would have written down more details when I visited.
Thanks for all your comments! I'm with you, LuluandPhoebe, about trying to support local farmers and producers.

Irritated Mother, thanks for doing your part! Like you, I bemoan the loss of many fine traditions, which result in a kind of "blandifying" of all things.

What great memories you have, PattyJane, of tasting cheese in the French Alps - arguably among the world's best. I'll see what I've written or can write about Alpine cheese. I haven't been eating as much wonderful European stuff lately, in an effort to support my local cheesemakers (of which there are many!) But, once in a while, I do come across great foreign cheese. I'm so happy you like reading about and tasting cheese. It is a strong passion of mine.