What is "Artisan" Cheese?
Cheese is complicated, finicky, and intimately linked to the land it comes from. Everything influences it, from the season to the aging process to the air it breaths. You may not have guessed that, and why would you? Since the 1950’s, cheese has been a somewhat unremarkable American diet staple. Something to snack on in passing, or eat melted on a pizza or sandwich. It’s widely available at supermarkets and tastes, well, like “cheese.” It’s an afterthought, an addition to something else, flavorless and almost, sad.
Fortunately, thanks to the resurgence of artisanal cheese, it doesn’t have to be.
In America alone, there has been an uprising of bold, innovative farmers seeking to return to the lost art of making cheese. The American Cheese Societies 2016 report finds that there are now over 900 artisan cheesemakers while the USDA states that there has been a 4% decrease in processed cheese consumption. All is not lost to the way of behemoths like Kraft and Velveeta. Using their hands, time-honored traditions, patience, and plain old hard labor, these cheesemakers are striking the difference between a lifeless piece of cheddar and something that reminds you of a perfect piece of buttered toast.
That remarkable difference in taste lies in the land. While clover, dandelion, and buttercup may sound like the quaint names of cows, they are in fact, examples of the types of local forage healthy herds graze on. Artisans place a premium on sourcing milk that directly reflects the unique local terroir, lending to richer, more complex flavors in the finished product. They understand the value of improving the biodiversity of their farms and keeping their herds happy. Operating this may not make them a ton of money and most of these farmers aren’t even turning a profit. However, what they are contributing to the local economy by rejuvenating the land is invaluable.
When you buy artisan cheese you are supporting more than just a delicious product; you are encouraging a much larger picture. One that not only brings the consumer something delicious but, improves local economies and the land they inhabit. What could be tastier than that?