Friday, June 4, 2010

French Cheeses Face Extinction

Paulette Marmottan is one of the remaining few farmstead cheesemakers in France, a nation known and defined by their love and consumption of cheese. She, her husband and son manage the 365 day-to-day laborious operations of a small farm in the French Alps, La Savinaz, where 33,000 pounds of persille de Tignes are crafted from 30 cows and 80 goats a year.

Though the exact number of cheeses proudly produced by the French used to number in the thousands, today, many of the traditional handmade varieties, prized throughout the history of France, are no longer being made. In fact, out of the 100 or so raw cheeses in production 3 disappear every year, this due primarily to economic reasons. The ones that remain are the few that can still command a sustainable price for production by discriminating cheese consumers.

"The paradox is that we're known as the land of cheese yet we're losing a increasing number," says Veronique Richez-LeRouge, president of the Association Fromages de Terroirs, a nation who fetishously has joked that they have a different cheese for every day of the year. Twentieth century French politician and war strategist, Charles de Gaulle is quoted for saying, "How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?"

As is the case with 52 year old Paulette Marmottan, their backbreaking artisan craft is one passed down from generation to generation. Their methods combined with the unique terroir of the region yield distinctive cheeses, their secrets kept within the confines of the family alone. And when these families get too old to continue and the next generation decides they don't want to be farmers, these traditions die out and the cheeses become extinct. Traditional farmstead creations give way to industrialized companies and processed products.

In the United States, however, a return to pioneer living, a reverence for a simpler time and way of life is giving way and farmstead and artisan cheesemaking is on a rapid rise. Perhaps, this is France's destiny as well. As a nation that still consumes vast amounts of cheese, second only to Greece in the EU, a self-awareness eventually emerges. Whether or not France can bring about a rebirth in their cheesemaking traditions, only time will tell. (Sources: The Washington, The Huffington, Brainy


Arlene said...

It seems here in the US I am reading a lot more about folks making cheeses. Lots of hard work but so worth it. Hope they will start passing down the recipes. Such a loss.

QAngel said...

Thanks, Arlene, for your comment. It is a shame.

mros said...

I think we are seeing two opposite trends here: on one hand there are less people willing to do all the hard manual work that making artisan cheese entails, on the other hand we have consumers valuing more and more products that are authentic and perceived as being natural. I think a the end the latter will prevail, however, some varieties of cheese, sadly might disappear along the way...btw, congratulations for the excellent blog, will be following it, as I am myself a cheese fanatic!

Magic of Spice said...

I agree with mros...I do not, or hope that all will be lost... Excellent post, truly excellent.