All things cheese in France

Monday 6 June 2016

The Journal Marianne Defends Raw Milk Cheeses!

The French journal Marianne recently released a special series edition entitled: Les derniers vrais fromages de France (The last real cheeses of France) written by the editor in chief, Périco Légasse. You can find it here in France on the newstands now.  A little gem of a publication which lists 45 fabulous country cheeses that are still made artisanally, it is chock full of other interesting articles on the subject of protecting the "terroir" of farmhouse cheeses.

But it was the editorial that rang true for me, so I did a loose translation of it for you all.

Stop the Anti-raw milk lies !   There is no real cheese other than farmhouse
Until the installation of the technologies permitting them to be produced mechanically, at the beginning of the 20th century, there was no cheese other than farmhouse cheese, made on a farm, with milk taken from cows, goats or sheep from the farm, fed in the fields of the farm. The herds progressed from the valley pastures, wooded countryside or plateaux, climbing to the beautiful grasses in mountain or summer pastures for the spring and summer seasons and, once winter came, resting in the barn eating the hay from the prairie.  This peasant agriculture worked without sanitary constraints, the raw milk which had at its disposal natural antibodies to eliminate intruding bacteria, was contrary to pasteurised milk, which is extremely fragile if it is re-exposed to pathogenic bacteria.  And if there was an accident, since zero risk is inexistent, it provoked infinitely less damage than the toxins of contemporary junk food.
Biodiversity was at its height reflecting the nuances of “terroir”.  For example, in the little canton of Bricquebec, north of Cotentin in the department of Manche, there were no less than 20 producers of camembert in 2010.  Originally from Cherbourg, my grandmother, born in 1899, remembered that one served 14 different camembert at the Sunday table in Quenillé, all of which being tasted, grandfather Vauvert could name each producer: such and such came from the farm La Chavinière, at Sottevast, and this one from the farm Pierrepont, at Quettehou.  Normandy claimed a good two thousand farm atelier in the five departments and more than a hundred mechanical fabricators.  Now only two farmhouse producers and eight of the last industrial producers using raw milk exist in 2016.
Here we must reveal a reality: the fact that as a result of the global sterilization in the prevailing environment and the level of normalized hygiene imposed at agricultural cooperatives in the last decade, raw milk is no longer as raw as it was in the past.  The indigent microbial flora present in today’s natural environment is considerably inferior to what it was. The environment has change and nature with it.  We now need to re-inseminate the milk to reinforce its capacity to ferment, all while running the risk of pathogenic contamination.  This confirms that the most authentic cheese representing “terroir” are not what they were yesterday. A terrible confession!
This does take anything away from the quality of our farmhouse production, of which here at Marianne, we defend its permanence.  The preservation of our cheese traditions become in effect a major issue faced with the more and more drastic norms that the professionals of raw milk unfairly have to put up with and the eagerness shown by some governments to catch them out, reminiscent of some ideological bias. Food security is not negotiable, except while it serves as a pretext to eradicate the competition to consolidate those parts of the market for the industrial lobby. Farmhouse cheeses are not the only ones to be squeezed; the small and medium sized milk producers attached to raw milk are also victims of this zeal, this harassment, by certain agencies of the state.  The examples multiply.
Listeria is often a good excuse to obtain the closing of a production unit or destruction of a contaminated lot of cheese, while a new offensive is prepared by Brussels to try and establish the dangerousness of raw milk at a European scale.  In 2015, a million tons of cheese was sacrificed under this sacrosanct hygieno-political dogma. Under the force of such pressures (and disguised repression), entire groups will finish by ending their production and the camp of “all things pasteurised” will win.  All this rendering food banal in an aseptic and submissive world.
It is evident that, beyond the debate about durable agriculture, biodiversity disturbs the free-market system and that the financial equation of the industry-publicity-big distribution triad badly serves living products.  Why?  Simply because raw milk is more complex to treat on a large scale and that its passage through the industrial process requires onerous levels of control.  Full of its active natural flora, cheese made with raw milk evolves more rapidly than pasteurised milk cheeses where the capacity to conserve them is much longer; therefore, more cost effective.  Thermalization at 63°C or pasteurization at 72°C of milk limits constraints and augments the profit margins, the ideal for satisfying financial gains of consumerism. Especially for the shelves of the big distribution groups.
In 2007, the Groupe Lactalis and the Cooperative Isigny Sainte-Mère insisted that the rules for Camembert de Normandie abandon its AOC obligation to use raw milk so they could benefit from AOC labelling.  The demand was rejected. However, for these merchants of plaster with their glorified labels, created from publicity campaign, the proponents of organoleptic and sensory authenticity from fermented pastes, i.e., farmhouse cheeses were supported by INAO for the moment, ensuring that we have our cake and can eat it too.…But will they always have the legal means to support this combat of David against Goliath?  Their determination, and the vigilance of the aware consumer, holds the key to safeguarding the heritage of French cheese with respect to its origins.  Hands off my cheese…farmhouse cheese that is!

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Cheese Addict’s 12 Steps to Recovery

ParisUpdate-cheese-addictionHere is an amusing take on the recent blahblah about cheese being the new crack! In the Paris Update, a weekly Paris guide edited by Heidi Ellison, I found this funny column written by one of her contributers: David Jaggard, apparently a cheesehead of the first order.

In his article French Cheese: Confessions of a Casein Addict he kindly provides the rest of us with a 12 step program for cheese addicts.  Read the entire article, it is funny but here are his 12 steps for you to contemplate while endulging in your habit:

1. Admit that you, by yourself, are powerless over cheese. You also need a knife.

2. Believe in a power greater than what you have now — somewhere out there is a cheese that’s even more potently malodorous than anything you’ve ever smeared on bread. If only you could find it.

3. Make a decision to turn your life over to God as you understand Him, by which you understand Casomorphin.

4. Make a searching and fearless inventory of your moral shortcomings. Or, since that’s a drag, of the nearest cheese shop.

5. Admit to yourself, to Casomorphin and to another person, namely the cheese shop clerk, the exact nature of your uncontrolled cravings. Along with how much of each one you want.

6. Be fully ready to have Casomorphin remove any compunctions you might have about asking to sample dozens of different cheeses before buying.

7. Humbly beseech Casomorphin to keep delivering His opiate high without ruining your cholesterol levels or waistline.

8. Make a list of all the persons you have harmed in the past by breathing on them right after a big bite of gorgonzola.

9. Make direct amends to those people by inviting them over for fondue.

10. Continue to take regular personal inventories of your cheese stock and, when it falls low, promptly admit it. And (duh!) go buy more.

11. Seek through prayer (for more grocery money) and meditation (on the locations of various cheese shops) to improve, and indeed maximize, your communion with Casomorphin.

12. Having had a spiritual, or, failing that, gustatory awakening as the result of these steps, carry this message, and a cheese knife, everywhere you go.

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Say Cheese Please!

Recently I lead a cheese tasting (dégustation) for the American Womens Group here in Paris.  Unlike we normally do, we went to one of my favourite fromageries - Griffon, near Ecole Militaire for a group visit of the shop guided by the always affable and totally knowlegeable team of Claire Griffon.  One of the participants, Janet Robbins sent me a link to her blog Postcards From Paris where she posted a great recap of the visit entitled 'Say Cheese Please!'. The article is worth the read as Janet really nailed the essence of the moment and backed the visit up with a good deal of research on my favourite subject -  CHEESE!  

Monday 14 March 2016

A Look at Pairing in the USA

The Wall Street Journal published a great article on cheese in America worth taking a look at called The A to Z Guide to Cheese Plus Pungent Pairings . It features an interesting combination of world cheeses with amusing descriptions to go with them, like " a nutty, savory, beef-broth-y stunner with plenty of “crunchies” (amino acid clusters) that add a pleasant Pop Rocks-for-adults texture to many aged cheeses" or Époisses being "Stinky, funky, smooth as a velvet Elvis".

Then it proposes, with photos, some cheeseplate combinations of the selections they feature.  Quite interesting combinations, not your usual ones either, which is the point of the article.  There are some American cheese I would really like to try but can not get here in France, but there are some beautiful Italian and Spanish ones that if you look hard you can find here and in the UK.

This aticle proves that cheese has definately 'arrived' in the US and just like wine Americans are jumping into it with both feet!  And as a side note, Culture Magazine reported that before banning them, the US Food & Drug Administration has decided to  "reconsider the safety criteria" for raw milk cheeses !  Great news for all.

Saturday 12 March 2016

The internet is an amazing thing.  You can find all kinds of useful and useless information, anytime, anywhere.  Following a link from a podcast about the International Cheese Competition, I read a very interesting article, albeit a bit old the other day regarding terroir and cheese.  It was in the Feb 2002 issue of Wine Business Monthly and is called The Terroir of Cheese by Maria Lorraine Binchet.

It is one of the best and most focused discussion of the subject of terroir and cheese I have read.  It describes the main differences between terroir in wine and in cheese and then goes indepth on the subject relative to cheese from the land, to the animals, to the process and the producers, all who add their special piece to the terroir of a fromage. Well worth the read!