The case of the disappearing cheese

Baked cheese with quick walnut bread

When you think of France, cheese is probably near the top of food items that come to mind. (We'll understand if your first thought is wine.) The home of beloved cheeses like Camembert, Comte, and Oussau-Iraty is now facing an existential crisis. Newsweek reports that since the 1960s, over 90% of French cheese makers have gone belly up or have been taken over by larger companies. On top of that, most raw milk cheeses have all but disappeared. Cheeses made with unpasteurised milk "now make up only 10% of the market, compared with 100% 70 years ago. The cheese war is particularly savage in Camembert, an area where there are now only five authentic local producers left."

Part of this disappearance is blamed on EU health and sanitation laws, and the rest on a big push by industrial producers. "The multinationals don't care a fig and with the complete cooperation of the powers-that-be have swept aside 2,000 years of know-how, and now the great cheeses of France are on the road to extinction," despairs Véronique Richez-Lerouge, founder of France's Unpasteurised Cheese Association. According to the article, pasteurised, industrially-fabricated cheeses make up nearly half of Appellation d'Origine Protégée (AOP) products, further endangering this protected class. "AOP Cantal is now 70% pasteurised; Ossau-Iraty from the Basque region is 80%, and Fourme d'Ambert is a staggering 97%."

The fate of cheese makers appears similar to that of French artisan bakers. Most have stopped baking their own croissants and other traditional pastries. Instead, the trend is toward mass manufactured, ­frozen baked goods. This trend extends to French restaurants, where it's estimated that "70% of outlets now serve up microwaved meals bought from industrial caterers."

But the news is not all apocalyptic. Hervé Céneri is one of two cheesemongers left in Cannes. Says Hervé: "I have spotted a trend back towards proper cheese. I believe there is a growing recognition that our heritage is in grave danger and people are now coming back. Our great tradition, despite a concerted attempt to destroy it, is still out there."

What do you think of this alleged decline in French food tradition? Is the trend unstoppable or is it turning around?

1 Comment

  • veronicafrance  on  9/3/2014 at 1:49 PM

    If you live in France, it is still possible to find real unpasteurised cheese, but rarely in supermarkets -- you need to buy direct from a local producer, or go to a fromagerie. The fate of Camembert is pretty devastating; I saw a documentary on it years ago, and the big companies basically got the AOC board to roll over and allow unpasteurised milk. You just don't see raw-milk Camembert now, except in specialist shops.

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