Author Topic: Terroir, cheese style, milk  (Read 1518 times)

Online ArnaudForestier

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Terroir, cheese style, milk
« on: June 11, 2011, 08:55:04 AM »
Can't quite think where to put this.  As it all starts with milk, then I guess here is as good a place as any.  Spurred by the discussion with Yoav, on another thread; and my own thoughts on what I would hope to achieve, let me pose ideal models to aunch a discussion:

I'm thinking of France, at the moment.  an ideal declares a land, climate, permanent forages all driving breeds of cattle, and traditions - how the cattle are raised; how their milk is gathered; what kinds of cheeses are made from those milks, and how those cheeses are made.

For instance, think pastoral Normandy.  Normande cattle, good grazers, converting to excellent milk.  Do they specialize in hard cheeses?  No.  Why?  Because they can get away with selling water - cheeses high in moisture content.  Their climate allows for continual market sales of these cheeses, no prohibitive geographic or climactic constraints to prevent this specialization.

Now, I'm in the French Alps.  Geography and climate make their confluence, to drive grazing on high-mountain meadow pasturage, with the prize being, say, Beaufort D'Alpage.  It's a nice conspiracy.  The high mountain grass, herbs, flowers come through.  But it's costly, to sell long-aged, drier cheeses, and hard.  Makers live lonely lives in high-meadow chalets, until the autumn, when cows return to the comfort of their winter quarters, and are served their fattening meals of stored forage, grain and the like. Here, reblochons and Mont D'Ors find their way to market.

Now - in the States, we have many makers doing "alpine" cheeses in decidedly pastoral, non-alpine locations.  My own state, for instance, an eminently pastoral, if hilly-pastoral, place.  A perfect Normandy transplant, if one wanted it to be so.  Yet there are folks making great hard cheeses in the alpine "style."

What is terroir?  Does one make a cheese driven by the land, per the above - speaking of the U.S. only, if one wants to make alpine cheeses, does one move to the Western States, find highlands, and make a go of it, or adapt traditions to make cheeses one wants, wherever located? 

How important is land, geography, natural endowments in defining a cheese?
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Offline fied

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Re: Terroir, cheese style, milk
« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2011, 11:55:07 AM »
"How important is land, geography, natural endowments in defining a cheese?"

Interesting question.

I would have thought, from the examples you give, that terroir is important for a cheese. But soft and hard cheeses are often produced in the same region. Think Mon't D'Or, Gruyere and Vacherin Fribourgeois. Most of the cheese-producing countries are in the temperate zone, so upland and lowland cheeses have a better chance of developing. Hotter climates don't lend themselves to the production of long-maturing cheeses, though Panir is produced in India and some soft cheeses for quick consumption are produced in parts of the Middle East.

In the UK, it's interesting that most hard cheeses originated in upland areas - Lancashire, Cheshire, Derby, Wensleydale. Even Caerphilly is on relatively high ground. Cheddar is an exception, although there are parts of Somerset, up near the Mendip Hills, that are quite high and have limestone caves. However, soft and acid-curdled cheeses were also made in these areas. Stilton was made quite close to the flatlands and rich pasturelands of the East coast of England. Scotland, on the whole, was better known for softer cheeses - Crowdie, Caboc, Gruth Dhu, but also has its own hard cheese, a Cheddar type, Dunlop, but it's now producing some notable blues on along the West coast - Lanarkshire Blue and Ayrshire blue, among them.

From my own experience of cheese-making in different parts of the UK, geography and climate certainly has an effect. Lincolnshire was quite dry: hards did well, but blues and whites needed a lot of attention. The reverse is true in Glasgow; the West coast of Scotland is notorious for rain and high humidity, so it's difficult to keep blue moulds off hard cheeses. London was fine for young cheeses like Caerphilly, Lancashire and most of the lactic and acid-curdled cheeses, but because ambient temperatures were so high, long-matured hards were difficult. Cambridgeshire, where part of my family had a cheese-producing farm, seemed to produce a variety of hards and softs, with some creamy semi-hards, the production of which seemed to be local and have long gone.

Land, I'm not sure about as most of the milk I have used has been local pasturised milk, though the Cambs. farm produced its own cows' milk (a mixture of Friesian, Jersey and Guernsey cows) and that certainly made a difference to the cheese. Most often the milk was mixed, but sometimes different cheeses were made from the milk of each breed and the Jerseys were always used to produce cheese for home consumption at Christmas and the New Year. Nor was the the milk always left raw for cheese-making; that sold at market was pasteurised on the farm.

Goat cheeses were not made in the UK until the 1970s because few people kept goats. I've never understood why sheeps' cheese was not produced until around the same date, as sheep farming was and is prevalent throught the country; maybe the milk yield was seen as only enough for lambs.

In sum, I suppose, it seems that the picture in the UK is quite mixed, though some of what you say also appears to apply.

I'd be interested to hear what people from other parts of the world have experienced or know.

Offline Tomer1

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Re: Terroir, cheese style, milk
« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2011, 12:57:07 PM »
Dont forget that terroir when referred to old world contains alot of tradition.
Terroir was eliminated when science and technology kicked in along with refrigiration, artificialy controled caves and microbiology isolating specific strains.

What may be said is that the "original terroir" will always be the "real mccoy" and when our modern world comes to an end thos luckly people will be the only ones to produce and enjoy these cheeses.
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Offline smilingcalico

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Re: Terroir, cheese style, milk
« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2011, 01:12:33 PM »
My comments are probably too simplistic for this discussion, but I'll chime in anyway.  It has been my understanding that terroir is the reflection of place, in the cheese (feed, weather, molds, etc.), and not necessarily  a determiner of what cheese style should be made.  For instance, my Gouda reflects my place in California, and all things being equal, will always taste different from those produced in Holland. 
Additionally, different methods were contrived in different locations, washed curd being a good example.  These methods become entrenched in an area (tradition, as you stated), and are not considered as part of terroir, but they certainly could serve to highlight terroir.  Keep in mind methods arrived for different reasons.  Some were out of necessity such as the ability for a cheese to travel long distances to get to market.  Some methods to highlight creaminess, tartness, or what have you.  Soft cheeses were more exclusive to being eaten locally and quickly, or would be made for sale closer to areas of larger populations. 
It irks me a little when I hear in reference to cheese "selling water".  If that moisture wasn't there, it wouldn't be that style of cheese any longer.  Otherwise, you'd hear people complaining of having to dry and age their cottage cheese before it was useable.
So then, in my opinion, cheese reflects both tradition and terroir.  Being in the US, I don't think we are late to the game, we are simply a continuation of the cheese story.  Our cheese should, and artisanally, often does, reflect the fondue pot principal that America idealized.
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Offline smilingcalico

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Re: Terroir, cheese style, milk
« Reply #4 on: September 03, 2011, 02:20:38 PM »
BTW, here's a little article discussing terroir.
http://www.winebusiness.com/wbm/?go=getArticle&dataId=15153
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Offline fied

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Re: Terroir, cheese style, milk
« Reply #5 on: September 03, 2011, 03:30:19 PM »
"...cheese reflects both tradition and terroir..."

You're probably right, but "terroir" has only recently started to apply again to British cheeses and isn't strongly researched as yet.

As for tradition, it's interesting to compare, for instance,  the US and UK. My husband's Californian, so we've had lots of opportunities for comparisons of both artisan cheeses and the average supermarket types. I've noted, for instance, that Americans seem to press their hard cheeses to a much denser texture than I would. I was brought up with hards that had a degree of crumble to them, even Cheddar. That's breaking down now; even some supposedly renowned Cheddar types like Lincolnshire Poacher and some of those made by West Country Farmhouse cheesemakers are denser than I remember from childhood. Whether that reflects terroir, production methods or consumer expectations, I can't say, but I guess some traditions change over time, too.

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Re: Terroir, cheese style, milk
« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2011, 04:39:34 PM »
Thanks all, very interesting discussion.  Sorry for my lateness in revisiting, been away for quite some time.  For an interesting discussion of the concept, as applied to WI makers, see Gersende ("Gigi") Cazaux's work, here.  Warning: PDF).  Found what she had to say (and write, once I read this), very interesting, in thinking on what the concept means in France, and in at least a small sampling of American makers.
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Re: Terroir, cheese style, milk
« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2011, 06:55:50 AM »
Many thanks for the thesis, Arnaud. I've added it to my weekend reading.

Another point on terroir: I would have thought that many bacteriological strains of a particular farm or region have disappeared since industrialisation. I wonder if some of those will be recovered or recombined in places/dairies/localities where small scale cheese production is now happening.

Offline Gürkan Yeniçeri

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Re: Terroir, cheese style, milk
« Reply #8 on: September 13, 2011, 05:53:47 PM »
Here my 1 cents on the subjects.

I have no experience in any of what I am going to say though I read a lot.

Yes, industrialisation and government rules killed the little artisan/farm house cheesemakers but it is still possible to get a license. I think we should start the process by feeding the land first. Study what sort of plants grow/used to grow in the area and increase the flora where your animals will graze. Once you start feeding the land and getting the missing types of plants, the bacterial diversity will come back. Every pasture will present a different array of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, acids, bacteria and enzymes. You have to feed the soil where the pasture grows to get a good quality milk from your animals; only then your cheeses will have more complex aroma compounds and flavour profiles which will be available to you as the cheesemaker to work with. Most local and famous cheeses are produced and licensed to the area for a reason.

Also rather than commercially/genetically bettered animals, try to find the missing heritage type of cattle, goat, sheep, and water buffalos for that area. Yes the milk production will/may be lower, it may require couple of generations before you can get a reliable milk but lost flavours of yesterday can only come back if you really work hard and put your passion into it.

And don't try to imitate other cheeses. Try hard to make something which will be unique to that area with its own flavour profile. Make your own rennet from your own animals, propagate your own starter using the milk that comes from your heritage animals grazing on the diverse flora of your pasture, design your own recipe and aging procedures by listening the elders of that area, use a pH meter, use some of the scientifically proven methods at your disposal to explain traditional methods and to formulate them without loosing the passion and without thinking about the profit.

Think about the quality of the product, have it evolve through out the making, spend time on it, study it, change it, have errors, mistakes and learn from them.

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Re: Terroir, cheese style, milk
« Reply #9 on: April 07, 2014, 04:54:41 PM »
I'm just revisiting this, guys.  Thinking on these things again, re-reading your contributions and wanting say thank you, some really thought-provoking posts.  I'm moving more and more to wanting to achieve a kind of lean purity in my making, keyed in many ways by what I see Alpkäserei doing in his craft, and as it's certain my family and I are staying here in Madison, WI - I'll call it little Normandy, with a pretty decent showing of Normande cattle on grazed pastures - I'm revisiting your thoughts as to climate, breed, practice...it goes on and on.  More and more, I'm hoping to find a way to become what I think Gürkan would agree is a good thing - hope to become a grass farmer, doing what Joel Salatin says when he urged to begin "seeding" your land "with what's growing in the dirt at the side of the road," and "take a year and do nothing to your land - walk it, see its patterns of light and shade, or water welling and water drying up, of slopes and keylines and..." (I paraphrase). 

I deeply love making alpine cheeses; I live in a pastoral and not alpine climate; I'm thinking of Tarentaise cattle - not from here, but embryos from abroad - because I hope to craft an Abondance with a more forward taste and aroma - the qualities I've enjoyed in Beauforts.  And there is some research there that attributes some of the piquancy associated with Beauforts to the unusual trait among Tarentaise, namely that they carry b-casein variant C in their milk; with the claim being (and supported by double-blind studies) this is a key factor in why Beaufort is unique, among its gruyère cousins.

Not sure what I'm trying to say, except to say - it's much like the conundrum of "form" and "substance" in zen - one drives the other; one is the other.  Here, I'm thinking, there's "process" and there's "place."  One drives the other; one is the other.  Is a perfect cheese some optimal combination of process that has been refined for centuries, through the trying prism of place? 

More selfishly - can you make a decent alpine on lowland meadows, with lowland cows (Normandes...)? !

Oh, and Smiling, sorry, I only now caught your comment on selling water.  I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to trash high moisture cheeses - just a shorthand for the fact these cheeses can be more profitable, as they do sell more water, pound for pound.  And I'll eat myself sick eating that tasty water, thank you very much.  As a cheesemaker, my real love is in the harder alpines.....but I'll eat a Mont D'Or any day of the week.
« Last Edit: April 07, 2014, 05:02:23 PM by ArnaudForestier »
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