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