In the country where I have been living some years now, France, artisan or artisanal cheese – ‘fromage artisanal’ – is really something quite normal. As is farmstead or farmhouse cheese – ‘fromage fermier’. You can buy it everywhere in France – and luckily also at reasonable prices in the rest of the EU.
For the French artisan or farmhouse cheese is nothing more than how since many centuries many French cheese makers have been making and today in many places are still producing farmhouse cheese.
With the high quality and taste the French consumer expects from his or her cheese. Before the production of cheese was industrialized, which is actually not so long ago.
The French don’t really speak of ‘artisan(al) of farmstead/farmhouse cheese’. Neither do the Italians.
You can see that on Google. If you do a search for the phrase ‘artisanal cheese’ google tells you there are over 1.250.000 results. If you add up the results of both searches for the phrases ‘fromage artisanal’ or ‘fromage fermier’ for France and ‘formaggi artigianali’ for Italy there are no more than 125.000 results (10%) .
The same goes for farmstead cheese (‘fromage fermier’ in French or ‘formaggi di fattoria’ in Italian). And many of the great traditional cheeses in many other European countries.
Passionate farmers and cheese makers produce the high-quality, tasty gourmet cheese in small quantities and that is the standard or norm along which they judge all other (mass-produced and other) cheeses.
For countries like the UK, Australia and the US both artisan(al) and farmhouse cheese for some time now has been one of the biggest trends in cheese world. There are more and more American, Australian and British artisan and farmstead – or cottage – cheeses.
And hopefully this a trend to stay! Since artisan or farmstead cheese taste much better (and healthier) than any other mass-produced cheese!
The Traditional Art of Cheese Making
For centuries skilled cheese makers have produced farmstead cheese by hand, using traditional craftsmanship. using the milk of camels, bison, yaks, cows, sheep, goats or other mammals like donkeys and even moose. The making of cheese begins well over 7,000 years ago. By various cultures around the world. It is not clear where people started to make the first cheeses : Europe, Sahara, or the Middle East, Central Asia.
Today’s modern artisan and farmstead cheese makers are replicating this. Bringing back tastes and varieties lost over time due to the industrialization of cheese production. In countries like the UK and the US this now has become a gourmet delicacy. And people are willing to pay a premium for this cheese.
Also in France and Italy the consumer is happy to pay more for traditionally produced French and Italian cheeses. Especially if it are local cheeses which they can buy at the farm.
The result of making cheese in traditional ways and letting them age and ripen is that the cheeses are often more complex in taste and variety than industrial cheeses. Before selling the artisanal cheese the makers let the cheeses age and ripen. This gives the cheeses special flavours and textures.
Preserving Traditional Farm Cheese Production
Buying artisanal cheese is also in line with the trend of of eating healthier, authentic and organic food. More and more producers around the world are making ‘artisanal’ or ‘artisan’ cheese. Especially in the US, UK and EU.
Especially France has always been famous for its cheeses, so also for artisan cheese. Such as the cow’s milk cheese from Le Puy-en-Velay. In the US there are over 450 artisanal cheese makers today.
Especially in areas where people are already more and more moving to healthy, organic food (like New England, California).
But also there is more an more a need for preserving the traditional farm cheese production techniques. Local farm cheese products are typically of higher quality due to the exotic origin, unique processing techniques, and particular flavoring and texture profiles. To produce some of these artisanal cheese products the cheese makers use special production techniques.
The artisanal cheeses are mostly bought locally by neighbours or sold to tourists. The problem for small farmers is that they are often not able to set up effective marketing at a larger scale. They would need a distribution network beyond their location, set up promotion and branding activities, think about packaging and then determine (international) pricing strategies.
Despite the premium product quality – and due to the inadequate marketing focus – the sales potential is low. This- and now also the COVID-19 episode – has lead to small artisan cheese farms facing serious challenges.
So buy buying artisan and farmstead cheese we can both help the small cheese makers to survive. And allow ourselves to continue enjoying the best cheese in the world.
Qualifications of Artisan and Farmstead Cheese
There is no strict or legal definition for ‘farmstead’, ‘farmhouse’, ‘artisan’ or ‘artisanal’ like there is for ‘organic’ in countries like US, UK and in the EU.
The definition differs per country and within countries per association or society.
In France, the ‘Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée’ protects the quality of cheese. There are four different categories:
- ‘Fermier’ which means the farmers make the cheese in small quantities in a farmhouse, or a mountain hut (chalet d’alpage, buron). An individual producer uses the milk of animals (cows, goats, sheep) raised only on his or her farm to make cheese following traditional methods. They cannot even use milk from neighboring farms. Only raw milk may be used. Quantities produced are small.
- ‘Artisanal’ — An individual producer uses the milk of animals raised on his or her farm, or buys in milk to make cheese. The producer is the owner of the dairy but he pr she may buy all the milk elsewhere. Quantities produced are small to medium.
- ‘Cooperative’ (also fruitières) — The cheese is made in a single dairy with milk from members of the cooperative. Quantities produced are medium to large.
- ‘Industriel’ — Large cheese producers buy the milk from a number of smaller producers, sometimes from distant regions. Production is industrial. Quantities produced are large.
The Difference Between Farm Farmstead and Artisan Cheese
For both types of cheeses the process is important: there should be near to no mechanization. The process and ingredients (up to species of grass eaten by cattle) which cheese makers use determines very much the farmstead or artisan cheese end product. Like with wine, also temperature or weather changes, yeast percentages play a role and can impact the artisan or farmstead cheese heavily.
But the idea is always to focus on – whatever the label is – offering high-quality, authentic, hand-crafted well-made and well-aged cheeses.
Farmstead – or Farmhouse- Cheeses
‘Farmstead’ cheese makers use milk from the producer’s own herds of cows, sheep, and goats.
Or of donkeys as in the case of Pule cheese or cheese even made from moose milk. Both are farmstead cheeses since they come from only one farm. They are respectively world’s number one an number two most expensive cheeses in the world. And therefore are in the top 20 of most expensive foods in the world.
Although you can argue whether they are actually also the ‘best’ cheeses in the world. Surely the French an Italians will have their own ideas about that.
Artisan – or Artisanal – Cheeses
Artisan cheese makers can use milk also from other farms. The word ‘artisan’ or ‘artisanal’ refers to the fact that a the cheese maker has produced the cheese primarily by hand. The next requirements then is that cheese makers produce it in small batches.
Artisan cheeses are mostly aged and ripened. From a few days to many years depending on type. Because of that it is possible to get the best taste and texture.
Artisan or artisanal cheese are one and the same thing. ‘Artisan’ means handicraftsman. the word has been around since a long time. In the middle ages European artisans created small guilds to produce cheese by hand. Often based on secret recipes or processes. Today’s artisans try to replicate the old traditions and use their own skill and creativity to make cheese.
The word ‘artisan’ came into use in food because the words ‘gourmet’, ‘fine’ and ‘specialty’ have become overused in mainstream food industry. Probably the same may happen to ‘artisan’ or ‘artisanal’. So as for other labels like ‘organic’, bio’, ‘natural’ the consumers needs to remain vigilant and know the story behind the products they buy.
An Artisan Cheese from the Provence: ‘La Brousse du Rove’
I started this post with saying artisan and farmstead cheese can be found everywhere in France. So what is my local favourite French cheese here in the Provence?
La Brousse du Rove is a fresh cheese made from raw whole milk from the “Chèvre du Rove” breed of goats. It is produced mainly in the Bouches du Rhône department and in the south of the Vaucluse and the west of the Var in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. The Brousse du Rove obtained the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) on 21 March 2018. It is one of the smallest AOC areas for an AOC cheese, with only a dozen or so producers supplying 250,000 Brousses du Rove every year!
Before the 1960s, they sold it under the name “lei brousso dou rové” in the Provençal language in the streets of Marseille.
Very physically resistant to “dented” routes, it finds its food in the dry and rugged areas of the massifs. There it eats plants from the garrigue, leaves from the kermes oaks or even rosemary branches…
The Rove goat provides little milk but it has a very good cheese yield due to its particular richness in fat and protein.
People from Marseille often consume La Brousse du Rove simply with sugar. But it is also a delight when it is served topped with a fruit coulis, jam, honey… or simply plain on a slice of good bread!
It is a fresh cheese, therefore without rind. Its paste, quite white, is wet and shiny with a crumbly texture.
In the mouth, it is a salt-free and extremely creamy cheese with a fresh milk flavour, very acidic (white wine vinegar flocculation). Depending on the vegetation of the ‘garrigue” that the Rove goats will savour (kermes oak, rosemary, broom…), it will offer secondary aromas of sweet almond and variable flavours.
Garrigue or phrygana (n.pl., Greek Φρύγανα) is a type of low, soft-leaved scrubland ecoregion and plant community in the Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub biome.
It is found on limestone soils in southern France and around the Mediterranean Basin, generally near the seacoast where the moderated Mediterranean climate provides annual summer drought.Source: Wikipedia
It pairs good with Champagne Rosé and white wine like Sancerre.
White wine vinegar is added to whole goat’s milk while stirred which is then heated to 90ºC and then slowly cooled. No rennet (generally used to make cheese) is therefore used.
It is only made from spring to summer. and should preferably be eaten within 5 days of production!
For centuries, farmers have favoured a breed of goat: the Chèvre du Rove, a rustic breed, bearing the name of the village it comes from.
1. Whole Food
Cheese is what you call a ‘whole food’.
Whole foods are plant foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, before being consumed. Examples of whole foods include whole grains, tubers, legumes, fruits, vegetables. Whole foods are generally good for you, as long as you don’t eat too much of one thing.Source: Wikipedia
2. Source of Nutrients
Cheese is a great source of calcium, healthy fats, and protein. It also contains high amounts of vitamins A and B-12, along with zinc, phosphorus, and riboflavin. Cheese made from the milk of 100 percent grass-fed animals is one of the highest in nutrients. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids (like in fish) and vitamin K-2. Cheeses – especially Swiss cheese – can energize you and keep your nervous system healthy through vitamin B-12. Vitamin K2 is a vitamin that can help prevent many common diseases. Gouda cheese is a good example since it is one of the best sources for this vitamin.
3. Prevents Obesity, Heart Disease, Reduces Inflammation
High-fat cheeses like blue cheese, Brie, and cheddar contain small amounts of ‘conjugated linoleic acid’ (CLA). CLA may help prevent obesity, heart disease, cancer, and reduce inflammation. 100-percent grass-fed animals produce cheese with more CLA.
4. Cardiovascular Health
Fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese, may have an even clearer positive effect on cardiovascular health. Unfortunately, when pasteurized with high heat, some beneficial compounds of dairy — such as good bacteria and enzymes — are significantly reduced.
5. Cheese Can Prevent Osteoporosis
The calcium and protein in cheese is good to keep your bones strong- it helps against osteoporosis.
6. Cheese Can Have a Positive Effect on Your Dental Health
Cheese can keep your teeth strong and prevent expensive dental work that results from decay.According to several studies, cheese — like milk and other diary products — protects your teeth from cavities.
7. Cheese Consumption Can Help You Gain Weight and Muscle in a Healthy Way
If your child needs to gain weight or build muscle, cheese can be a healthy way to achieve this.
8. Cheese is an Excellent Source of Protein
Cheese can help you receive your daily amounts of protein, giving you leaner muscle and healthier skin and hair.
9. Cheese is a Good Choice for Pregnant Women
With proper choices and preparation, cheese can be a good choice for pregnant women to receive vitamins and minerals necessary for healthy fetal development.
10. Cheese Benefits the Immune System
Cheese, especially gouda, can improve the immune system by introducing gut-healthy probiotics to your body.
11. Cheese is Good for Your Thyroid Health
Your thyroid, a small gland in your neck, produces hormones that regulate many of the body’s metabolic functions. It influences weight, fatigue, and fertility, anxiety, insomnia.
Selenium in cheese – like cheddar – is an essential mineral regulates the thyroid function by helping to produce thyroid hormones.
Sources: Healthline and Jenreviews.com
So it is not so strange that in some areas of the world where people live the longest. They are known as the “Blue Zones“. The blue zones are geographic areas in which people have low rates of chronic disease and live longer than anywhere else. People there eat small amounts of full-fat dairy products, including cheese, and large amounts of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, olive oil, and seafood.
As for Other Food Products Also for Cheese: Nothing in Access!
But cheese – even when artisanal or farmstead cheese – is not always good for everybody. watch out if you are lactose-resistant.
Also it can still lead to obesitas if you eat too much of it, or in combination with the wrong food products (like bread, biscuits, pizza, etc.).
So – as with many other foods – also here the advice is the ancient Greece principle in life: μηδὲν ἄγαν (pronounced: ‘meden agan’): ‘nothing in excess’, or ‘moderation’. In ancient Greece, the temple of Apollo at Delphi bore this inscription.
Since Artisan and Farmstead cheeses are more expensive buying them and eating them in small portions is already a good way to make sure you do not eat too much!