American Raw Milk Cheeses
The first American cheeses were modeled on English and Dutch products and later on German and Italian ones, as immigrants brought their cheesemaking skills and traditions to the New World. Over the past 200 years, American cheesemakers have ‘domesticated’ these cheeses by making versions of traditional European cheeses. Dry Jack, Teleme, and Brick are examples of American cheeses based on European originals (Parmesan, Taleggio, and Limberger, respectively). In the past few decades, new American cheesemakers, many of them women, have created a wide spectrum of innovative artisan cheeses.
Often invented or based loosely on existing cheeses, these products are as unique as the cheesemakers themselves and they reflect as much persona as they do terroir. Hard, soft, cooked curd, washed rind, pressed, wrapped, they vary from huge 40 kilo wheels to tiny 100 gram forms, and are wrapped in leaves, sprinkled with ash, or crusted in salt. The cheeses included in Slow Food’s first American Presidium project have a few common denominators: the use of raw milk from either the cheesemaker’s or a local farm, and a powerful commitment to sustainable agriculture and artisan production. Many of these cheesemakers are ‘farmstead’ producers, using only the milk from their herd. Promoting farmstead means limiting the size of the farms involved (usually small family concerns) and adding an extra guarantee of quality.
The smallholders who make these artisan cheeses are usually working singly or only with their families. They make cheese daily and sell the vast majority at a weekly farmers’ markets or directly to local restaurants, not through distribution networks. Given that they are selling at a tiny farmers’ market where they might be the only cheese seller on hand, they may need to produce up to 10 or 12 different types of cheese - with one herd of 25 cows - to satisfy all the local needs: fresh cheese, grating cheese, cooking cheese, and table cheese. It’s difficult to focus on any single variety when producing such a range of products, but it is the only way for a small producer to survive.
In the United States, the sale of raw milk cheeses that are aged less than 60 days is illegal, and cheesemakers are also at risk of losing the right to produce all raw milk cheese altogether. Due to the lack of a regional identity and the difficulties in collaboration between different producers (they may be hundreds of miles apart), the situation facing American raw milk cheese producers is challenging. Small cheesemakers feel isolated and, in addition to the problems involved in running a business, have to contend with the problems of uncertain and everchanging health and food safety regulations.
To support efforts in the United States to produce raw milk cheeses, the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity reconsidered the normal structure of a Presidium and focused on American raw milk cheesemakers needs and goals. The result is a presidium currently involving 24 producers, connected not by historical or geographic links but by common aims: the improvement of quality of American raw milk cheeses and the creation of links between cheesemakers.
The members of the Presidium operate on the belief that by respecting the diversity in their soil, pastures and woodlands, their herds and flocks, and the raw milk from their animals, they can produce cheeses that are as nutritious, safe, and wholesome to consume as they are flavorful. The Presidium Protocol developed in 2007 requires cheesemakers to meet stringent requirements. Presidium cheeses are all made with raw milk from humanely treated animals living on environmentally friendly farms. Each cheese has been evaluated for its overall quality to ensure that the cheese is delicious. To encourage new Presidium producers and to increase the quality of raw milk cheese production the Protocol commits each cheesemaker who becomes part of the Presidium to work actively towards meeting all of the criteria listed in this document within six years of joining.
A group of tasters, comprising Slow Food and cheesemaking experts, select the best raw milk farmstead cheeses each year from among participating producers. These cheeses will become the ambassadors of the project, representing the Presidium in different events and serving as an example of high quality for American producers. The Presidium has organized educational exchanges for cheesemakers, as well as tastings and promotional events.
Production Area: United States
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