Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What’s happened to French cheese?

Having spent the past week in the south of France, I ‘ve been forcibly struck by the fact that I have a better selection of French cheeses in my home town of Bristol than I do in the Languedoc village where we have our long term holiday home. There the only way to buy cheese without making a special expedition is to go to the local village shop which is supplied by Casino or the Intermarché down the road. True there are local markets but the choice of cheese there is limited and not always in good condition. Even the nearest big town of Beziers - a 25 minute drive away - doesn’t have a really good cheese shop.

The French cheese industry now seems dominated by the big companies like Lactalis which have squeezed the small cheesemakers out. You might find a couple of local goats’ cheeses in your local supermarket but that’s about it. Even Roquefort which is produced not far away on the plateau de Larzac comes from one of the big producers or packaged for the supermarkets' own brand range.

The resulting cheeses are not necessarily bad (there are advantages in having a less complex cheese, as I pointed out on my matching food and wine website the other day) just lacking in character. And for a cheeselover that’s a crime.


Cheesewench said...

Artisan Cheese has become more and more popular here in the U.S.A., but it seems as though France is starting to become more industrialized in their cheese production.

When did you first notice this happening, and why do you think it's been allowed to occur?

Fiona Beckett said...

Sorry cheesewench - have been away (in Argentina - not a great cheese destination) so only just picked this up.

I think I've noticed this particularly in the last 3-4 years and I guess it's a combination of factors: the growing influence of the supermarkets, the consolidation of the dairy industry and the fact that France has so many established cheeses there's not the incentive for new producers to break into the market - unlike the States, Ireland, Australia and here in the UK. That's not to say they don't still make great cheeses simply that it's harder to come by them.

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