Every cheese you eat is a window into another culture. Cheese is never about landing into culinary chaos; instead, it is about slowing down. Enjoying cheese is about having time to relax and stretch out the dining experience and talk about flavors, textures, cultures and history.
For many people, food has taken on a much greater significance than just filling your stomach or the social benefit of sharing time with family. It is, at times, a political statement, a reflection of education and sophistication, a practical consideration of clean living and the protection of the environment, and a growing desire to eat healthy.
Up until recently, food was about survival. In some parts of the world, including the United States, food is still about surviving. It may not be a question of starvation, but it may be a matter of concentrating in school or living longer and healthier. For some, it is about affordability.
For all our thoughts about luxurious living, cheese is still a basic food. Cheese, as the alternate protein, allowed people to survive in harsh environments. For most of global history, food was precious and not something to be wasted; and behind every cheese, there is a story to be told.
Cheese, with its ability to be preserved for months, even years, kept families fed and healthy. Most often locally-made, there was no need for 1,000 different kinds of cheese. There was usually a main style and a few others that reflected seasonality.
In Alpine areas, transhumance, the moving of cows to the mountains in the spring and their return to the valleys before the winter snows, became a time for ceremony and festivals. Large cheeses, such as Emmenthaler, Gruyère and Comté were very stable and could easily be transported down to the valley for aging. In later times, the cheeses that stored well and could be transported long distances became a source of trade and prosperity. Roquefort, a famous blue cheese from France that is prized all over the world, is beautifully tied to the region. The area around Roquefort is tough, rugged terrain. Not much grows there. With its scrubby grass, the only ruminant that seems to thrive are sheep and a few goats. The area is also full of natural caves filled with a naturally occurring blue mold, perfect for aging. Roquefort is an edgy blue cheese made from sheep’s milk. The blue mold culture was grown in giant loaves of rye bread. I favor Roquefort on a slice of dark rye bread spread with butter.
So, as we enter a time where food waste and protection of the environment become more important, think of cheese as a culinary lifeline. Eat well.