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2010 Wrap Up Part 5: Questions for 2011 and beyond

Because the cheese era is changing (see last entry), we are at a crossroads. The 70s and 80s cheese folks – as a whole – have a great deal of credibility and honesty associated with their work and that has reflected well on all of us working in the business today. What will happen next is unclear. There are a lot of issues with credibility on the table right now. Companies that never thought they’d be secure have expanded beyond their wildest dreams. Despite the fact that the word “artisan” has no real definition, as a cheesemonger I can assure people reading that consumers have a lot of trust in the concept of “artisan cheese”. The loose definitions (like “artisan”) used by many small producers, however, leave these vulnerable to cynical marketing and manipulation by other, larger forces. “Artisan cheese” is often being sold right now as if it’s an offering from the one person to another. Farmers markets — even when the person selling the cheese may never have even touched a ruminant– promote this idea whether they intend to or not. But as companies get bigger, get sold to outside interests, or start buying supplies from outside the region, the credibility earned with such hard work over the years is endangered. Let me say briefly (since this issue has already popped up in discussions about this “2010 Wrap Up” series) that I have no issue with any company using frozen curd (for goats) or frozen milk (for sheep). I do have an issue with the marketing of a product as local when the ingredients are not (at least almost entirely) local. I think this is a huge issue for the future if customers start feeling lied to by cheese companies, especially when they buy them at a farmers market under the illusion that they are supporting a local business. Certainly this issue only affects a subset of cheese eaters, obviously almost no customer in California cares if a Vermont cheese is using Midwest curd (as a “buy local” issue), but they do care if a company is advertising their “terroir” but are not entirely of that region. (I use this picture to illustrate my point. I drove hundreds of miles out of my way to see the “World’s Largest Cheese”. When I found out it was a replica of the box the World’s Largest Cheese was shipped in, I distrusted Wisconsin cheesemakers for years) cheese replica This is kind of my hobby horse I guess… I like definitions, even if I do not necessarily feel qualified to make them. Farmers often get itchy when people start talking about certification programs, but very soon, as consumers get more educated, more questions will be asked. And not just about regionality, I just chose that because it’s an issue bubbling up all over the cheese world right now. If a cheese is made with curd or milk from hundreds of miles away, is it local to anywhere? What percentage of non-local curd or milk makes it alocal?* Can someone call a cheese’s ruminant “grass-fed” if they just let her graze occasionally? Or does it have to be part of an agricultural system that eschews grain-based feed? Can dairies continue to be called “farmstead” if they have too many cows to name or if cheesemaking is not their primary form of business? If Jack in the Box describes their fast food bread as “artisan” can the word really continue to have any meaning at all? What is “small production”?… Could this cheese be considered “Domestic Fair Trade”?… Do the marketing images of a cheese company correspond to the look of the actual farm and the people doing most of the actual labor?… So many questions… I have my own answers to a lot of these, obviously. And cheese people are already working on defining some of these as well, but I think — moving forward — these are some things that need to be thought about in the coming years. Of course, these questions have their roots in the problem of success. The craft cheese business is more popular than ever as is the sophistication level of its customers. Not dealing honestly with many of these questions poses a real danger to the next era of the new American cheese. (When I went to see “The World’s Largest Holstein Cow”**, on the other hand, the truth in advertising made me a happy boy.) salemsueandme *”alocal”. I just made that word up, but I like it. Without locality. As in, “You can’t talk about that cheese’s terroir because it’s alocal” **Such specificity! Not the “Largest Jersey Cow”! Not the “Largest Guernsey Cow”! Nope, the “Largest Holstein”. Read the original article on Gordonzola’s Blog.
cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

Great Cheeses from ACS 2012: Part 1

I am only mentioning cheeses that are new to me here because – as anyone there can attest – there were too many awesome cheeses for one person to blog about. My versions of these from past years are still pretty much valid, so check those out as well if you want. Here is a […] Read More..

American Cheese Society 2012: Judging

Whenever I get a chance to be a cheese judge at the American Cheese Society Conference, I grab it. I really do love it. I am honored to be asked – and that is part of it – but I love it mostly because it is pure cheese: just me, my mouth, and 1771 anonymous […] Read More..

Gordonzola’s Humble Suggestions for Getting the Most out of the Cheese Conference

I’ve lost track of how many ACS conferences I have attended. I pretty sure I have attended every one not on the East Coast since 1999. Almost universally, they have been awesome experiences that have taught me innumerable things about cheese and introduced me to people I otherwise might never have met. Back when I […] Read More..

New facebook page

I started a new facebook page because during vacation it dawned on me that I really wish I hadn’t given the “Cheesemonger” facebook page the name of my book. For one reason, it’ll be confusing when my next book comes out. For another, it’s embarrassing commenting on other people’s facebooks as “Cheesemonger: A Life on […] Read More..

When Cheese Goes Bad

There are times of the year I associate with bad cheese. Usually it is after a holiday, when a distributor has bought too much of something perishable that didn’t sell. Buyers are alerted to these deals with flyers titled things like “Hot Sheet”, “Killer Deals”, and “Margin Builders.” This is definitely risky buying for the […] Read More..