February 03, 2010
Endangered Cheeses
Posted by Gordon Smith

WaPo has a story describing the extinction of some traditional French cheeses:

Dozens have been lost since World War II, and experts say another dozen or more are considered at risk of extinction. No one has a precise count of how many cheese types France produces, but the country has long prided itself on having a different one for every day of the year.

Why is this happening? You had to know that Americans are at least partly to blame. Other villains: law and big corporations.

Many blame the Americans, saying they habituated the French to pasteurization, to the detriment of raw-milk cheeses -- an ironic claim, considering that the germ-killing process was invented by a French hero of science, Louis Pasteur. 

Other big forces are also in play: the creeping homogenization of the global palate, food-safety regulations imposed by the European Union, and the increasing weight of the food industry, which churns out just a handful of blockbuster varieties.

In the end, however, the French have no one to blame but themselves. No one is forcing them to eat commodity cheese. A few pieces of self-loathing from the French:

"The French have forgotten what real cheese is," said Veronique Richez-Lerouge, who heads the Association Fromages de Terroirs, a group aimed at protecting France's cheese culture.

"Buying cheese has become like buying a box of detergent," said Richez-Lerouge, whose association publishes a calendar featuring bikini-clad pinups straddling hunks of Saint-Nectaire, Savarin and Rocamadour from family farms.

And this from a cheesemaker:

"Little by little, the others got old and retired or decided it wasn't financially worth it to them," Marmottan told The Associated Press. "A farm has to be viable financially and the product we make has to interest people or we can't in good faith continue. It's too hard a job."

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