Recently here in CCRI we had a visitor from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL). Emilia Schmitt who has been working on the ‘GLAMUR‘ project and is completing her PhD at the institute of agricultural sciences came to the UK to investigate cheese makers in the UK.
I visited CCRI last week during a research exchange concerning cheese sustainability in the context of the GLAMUR research project (www.glamur.eu). We are conducting case studies in parallel to compare the performance of local and global cheese: Gloucester cheese, Cheddar, Stilton (maybe) in the UK, and Gruyère and l’Etivaz (the one on the picture) in Switzerland. Daniel had nicely planned a visit to Gould’s farmhouse for an interview on Monday morning but sadly, the English train system was against us. I could never make the journey from Reading to Westbury where Dan would pick me up. Instead, I waited for 3 hours on a platform in the beautiful English weather…
Luckily, Dan was able to plan another improvised farmhouse cheddar factory the next day. We went to visit Westcombe dairy (http://www.westcombedairy.com/) without any train incident this time. I got to taste British artisan cheese for the first time and must say that it is very different than our Swiss cheese, or it might be closer to Emmental, although different. I liked the Caerphilly that they make better than the Cheddar, but taste is very personal. I like Swiss cheese better because I grew up in Switzerland and I’m used to cheese tasting like Gruyère, which is more dry and salty than Cheddar. And during the tasting of l’Etivaz the British part found this cheese “very salty”. The taste is very much linked to the process of maturing the cheese I think. I was surprised to learn that Cheddar is matured in lard, and during a longer period than Gruyère. Gruyère cheese is however immersed in a salty bath for 24hours before maturation.
But I realized that the world of cheese is a small world. Tom, the master cheese maker at Westcombe, had just been travelling to France and Switzerland to study potential cheese-turning robot acquisition for his new cheese cellar under construction. He actually went to Romont, one of the small town where we conducted interviews with Gruyère producers, and where the robots used by all of them are made. Tom is also considering developing an affineur-type of activity (specialized in maturing the cheese) thus creating a new stage in the supply chain and getting closer to a supply chain of the Gruyère-type. In our study of local to global food supply chains, we could thus directly observe a process of globalization happening. It is not necessarily negative, but although people like Tom try to preserve traditional know-how and artisan products, the type of technologies and the structure of supply chains tend to all become similar.
This is only one part of the reflections going on in this exciting project and I’m looking forward to having the CCRI team visiting us in November and hear about their tasting experiences here (more pictures to come maybe!).