Monday, May 17, 2010

Cheese Solidarity

Since I started using Twitter, I have been following an awesome guy named the @CurdNerd. He is from New Zealand and is living in England and the person behind the #cheesesolidarity hash tag. His concept, as I understand it, is an easy one.

There are very few of us really committed to the idea of artisanal cheese and we should all support each other, but most importantly the small cheese makers. The problem is that because the profit margins are so small, some big players are getting territorial about their turf and markets. Unlike wine, cheese companies/retailers are not directly encouraging cheese connoisseurship. They have instead opted for the middleman model standing between cheese makers and cheese consumers. This is basically my whole problem with the international foodie circuit.

At the same time, some cheese experts are more worried about helping companies sell more cheese and less about helping cheese makers maintain their livelihoods, cultures and life styles. This late capitalist model prefers fancy over local, food as signifier of style rather than culinary cultures and it thrives from corporatization while obscuring craftsmanship.

It has been over a year now since I spoke about this in the 2009 Ontario Cheese Society annual meeting in Toronto, Canada. Back then I was pushing for a North American expertise of cheese. My remarks while welcomed were recieved with hesitation, especially from the big players.

Later in the year in my way to the Canary Islands for the WCA, I had the opportunity to talk to Jaime Montgomery from the now famous English cheddar. He like others and me in the event were worried about the direction that the cheese industry was going and wanted to change the emphasis to the craftmanship. I should point out that this is not just a conversation that existed with cheesers of the Anglo world; Spanish, French and Swiss judges expressed similar worries. Me as the only Latin American and the judge from South Africa were concerned that this marketization would destroy small local cheese farms in our counties. Giving way to a foodie market that rather consumes fancy food from factories bought at high-end markets than local productions from farmers and mongers.

Finally, after a brief conversation with Mateo Kehler, and other members of the American Cheese Society, I realized that the only thing I could do, was to directly link up with cheese makers to learn from them how we could ensure that their livelihoods were maintained for them, their families and their regions.

It is for this reason that I keep helping cheese makers in Chiapas pro bono and this summer I am planning to expand to help cheese makers in other regions of Mexico. I am also hoping to help start the Mexican Cheese Society.

In the mean time, I ask you to email me with suggestions and how to help cheese makers, opening markets, fighting lame legislation, finding funding and expertise, and connecting with cheesers all over the world.

In a sense keep the #cheesesolidarity going!!!


  1. This is awesome. And I am glad to know that after the revolution, we'll still be able to get good cheese.

    "This late capitalist model prefers fancy over local..... this marketization would destroy small local cheese farms in our counties. Giving way to a foodie market that rather consumes fancy food from factories bought at high-end markets than local productions from farmers and mongers." (This is why I love you, babe).

  2. We pasteurise the milk for Milleens. Some cheese exporting countries have been unable to eradicate diseases transmittable between species, e.g., tuberculosis and brucellosis. In the event of a breakdown in the disease-free-status of your herd, all produce made with raw milk must be recalled and destroyed. No compensation, not even a cup of tea and sympathy! In a country where there is much testing you may sooner or later have this experience.

    Small scale pasteurisation is simply carried out, in the cheese tank, by running hot water through the jacket. The milk is heated to 63c, held there for 30 minutes, cooled to the normal starter temperature, and cheesemaking proceeds as usual. This is only feasible with quantities of milk up to about 1,500 litres. The positive aspect is that it does no great damage to the nutritional value or to the bioavailability of the minerals in the milk and cheese. It does involve the use of a thermometer, but the great revolution does not involve keeping cheesemakers in total darkness.