EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Politics of raw-milk cheese and fermented food
Location U6-41
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Heather Paxson (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) email
  • Elise Demeulenaere (CNRS) email

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Short Abstract

Raw-milk cheeses are becoming emblematic of broader movements of resistance or dissent against industrialization and standardization of food. How are these movements organized? How do they manage and value the microbial diversity necessary to craft their products?

Long Abstract

Raw-milk cheeses are classified as highly risky for public health owing to the microbial pathogens they might harbor. As such, they are subject to particular scrutiny from sanitary authorities. The dominant management of risk (predicated on industrial scales and methods) privileges eliminating microbes (via pasteurization, thermization and microfiltration). In contrast, promoters of raw-milk cheeses claim that risk can be successfully managed through careful management of the microbial environments in which cheeses are fabricated, aged, and sold. In contexts where sanitary regulations are being strengthened, on both sides of the Atlantic, raw milk and raw-milk cheeses are becoming emblematic of broader movements of resistance or dissent against industrialization, standardization and globalization of food. How are these movements organized? Who are the players? What arguments do advocacy groups promote? What role do scientific communities play? What are the "epistemic communities" in favor of and in opposition to raw-milk cheese? At the level of the practitioners, how do they manage the microbial diversity necessary to craft their products? How do they value it? How do their practices and understanding of microbial life conflict with sanitary rules? This panel has been thought with the case of cheese in mind, but can be open to other foodstuffs involving microbes.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


PDO Saint-Nectaire cheese: the raw milk as a valorization argument

Author: Mayra Bertussi (École des Hautes Études en Science Sociale (EHESS) / Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP))  email

Short Abstract

This paper deals with the place of raw milk in the valorization strategies of PDO Saint-Nectaire cheese, considering that this label provides in a single appellation two ranges of the cheese: a raw milk cheese and a pasteurized milk one.

Long Abstract

Among the 45 cheeses placed under the Protected Designations of Origin (PDO) in France, Saint-Nectaire cheese gathers in a single appellation two qualities of cheese: Saint-Nectaire fermier, derived from a raw milk produced in a single farm and the Saint-Nectaire laitier, a pasteurized milk and industrial manufacturing cheese. The fermier cheese is made from raw milk from a herd of the same farm and the transformation must take place immediately after milking, whereas the laitier is derived from pasteurized milk, witch can be stored and collected until forty-eight hours after milking. These technical characteristics reveal a social dynamic of ranking that includes two ranges of cheese in the same appellation. Indeed, Saint-Nectaire fermier is considered for the enthusiasts and experts as the high-end of the label, while the laitier, with its industrial production, contrariwise, is intended to a mass consumption and a popular taste. On the one hand, the raw milk it's seen as a link with its terroir, since it allows the protection of microbial and sensory diversity. On the other hand, pasteurized cheese complies with all sanitary requirements imposed in the European Union and even in the global level. These criteria lead to such different rankings of each product but concomitant with the same appellation. This paper studies the social dynamics of classification including raw milk as a key criterion for a number of the product valorisation strategies.

The politics of raw-milk cheese in the food heritage arena

Author: Cristina Grasseni (Utrecht University)  email

Short Abstract

Raw milk cheese can play multiple roles in the politics of food heritage in northern Italy.

I discuss a case in which raw milk dairy technique is used as an emblem of dairy excellence, back-staging the potential radicalness of a fully organic value chain.

Long Abstract

Raw milk cheese can play multiple and ambivalent roles in the politics of food heritage. I discuss how raw-milk dairy techniques are used as an emblem of dairy excellence to argue for the distinctiveness ('tipicità') of local traditions: while promoting non-industrial, non-standardized local cheeses, insistence on dairy technique alone can back-stage the opportunity of investing on fully organic value chains.

Drawing on my forthcoming book 'The Heritage Arena - Reinventing Cheese in the Italian Alps' (Berghahn) I will relativize the potential radicalness of raw milk cheese within the complex process of the patrimonialization of heritage foodstuffs, specifically in the context of geographical indications for cheese.

For example, the production protocol for Strachitunt PDO, a cheese whose protected designation of origin was conceded in 2014 after a candidacy that lasted 11 years, stresses the dairy technique of curdling raw milk 'a munta calda', namely at milking temperature. However, this PDO consortium shied away from a more comprehensive strategy promoting local economies through environmental investment. Instead of establishing a 'presidium' with milk from cows grazing exclusively local grass (hence presumably organic), the PDO strategy was more moderate, insisting on raw milk only, and leaving some space to hay imports and diet integrators such as grain-based fodder. Thus a more comprehensive rethinking of the dairy chain was postponed, allowing for an unregulated cows' diet (potentially including GM fodder, for example) and making only a cautious connection between the final dairy product and the maintenance of local pastures.

Raw-milk cheese in Sardinia: tradition, change and retro-innovation

Author: Alessandra Guigoni (Istituto Europeo di Design )  email

Short Abstract

The paper discuss the production of raw-milk cheese in Sardinia in view of the concepts of tradition, change and retro-innovation. The last model regards product innovation, and/or cheese making techniques, marketing and communication strategies.

Long Abstract

In Sardinia, which hosts three millions of sheep and almost 100 cheese factories, many of them are small dairies, raw-milk cheese is traditional. In the last 20 years some local cheese-makers have begun to reform the production through pasteurization or using thermised milk, others continue tradition, like for Fiore Sardo production, done with raw milk. Finally, some others applied "retro-innovation" concept to improve traditional typologies of cheese by means of innovative techniques and/or new marketing and communication ideas. Their efforts also lead to the production of cheeses, which are quite uncommon for the Sardinian foodscape, like blue cheese, white-rind cheese, ovine mozzarella cheese and some others, mostly derived from raw-milk. The paper describes the different forces and dynamics at work in these processes, through selected some case studies.

Raw milk cheese resistance in Brazil: a emergence of an activist movement

Authors: Débora Pereira (Medialab Sciences Po)  email
Leonardo Dupin (Universidade Estadual de Campina)  email

Short Abstract

This communication presents a general panorama of raw milk cheese resistance in Brazil, their organization and flux, through content published on social networks and websites.

Long Abstract

The most recent text governing raw milk cheese by the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture classified in 2015 this product as high risk for public health. Nevertheless, supported by an "epistemic community" of consumers, chefs, researchers and civil associations, small farmers still resist and continue transforming raw milk. They claim that risk can be successfully managed by preserving the microbial environments in which cheese is produced. Arbitrary acts, such as the public destruction of 13 tons of artisanal raw milk cheese Canastra, in the state of Minas Gerais in November 2015, led to a revolt in social networks and emerges as a "sanitary-political-act". A Facebook post of SerTãoBras (an ONG that fights for raw milk legalization in Brazil), with a photo from this episode showing a truck full of cheese on its way to a landfill has been viewed by more than 2.4 million people, has been shared 24 000 times and has received over 2800 comments. Using Netvizz tool and the data from this post, we collected all comments and identified food safety and public health controversies. A large majority of people question the credibility of federal regulations and express the intention to continue consuming raw milk cheese and its original bacterias. The theoretical framework adopted is the Actor-Network Theory (Latour). The methodology of mapping controversies is used to explore the complexities of scientific and technical debates around Brazilian raw milk cheese.

Standards and skills: navigating uncertainties of raw-milk cheese regulation in the United States

Author: Heather Paxson (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will identify and analyze the epistemic commitments underpinning current microbiopolitical contests being waged over raw-milk cheeses in the United States, and describe how people whose livelihoods are at stake try to navigate uncertain regulatory terrain.

Long Abstract

In early 2014, a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official announced that the traditional and widespread use of wooden boards for aging cheese is noncompliant with US hygiene regulations and therefore impermissible. Later that same year, the FDA began buying cheese on the market to test for non-toxigenic E. coli, suddenly enforcing a rule-change that occurred in 2010 but was never announced to the artisanal cheesemaking community. Both moves newly threatened the legal sale in the US of domestic-made and imported raw-milk cheeses. In both cases, the American Cheese Society and other interest groups filed formal inquiries and launched public protest campaigns that have led to some degree of FDA back-pedaling. Nevertheless, regulatory pressure remains and uncertainty about future regulation is affecting what cheeses American producers are making and importers are buying. This paper will identify and analyze the epistemic commitments underpinning current microbiopolitical contests being waged over raw-milk cheeses in the United States, and describe how people whose livelihoods are at stake try to navigate uncertain regulatory terrain.

Donkey probiotics: an exploration into the microbial politics of donkey milk in Croatia

Author: Sarah Czerny (University of Rijeka)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the resurgence of interest in the consumption and production of donkey milk in Croatia as a result of its suggested health benefits. It explores how microbial risk is perceived and managed by both donkey milk farmers and its consumers.

Long Abstract

Recently in Croatia, there has been a resurgence of interest in the production and consumption of raw donkey milk. Its advocates say that it is effective as a complement to mainstream medical therapies, particularly for children with chronic pulmonary conditions. Bearing in mind that it is drunk in its raw form, and that potential consumers are often immuno-compromised persons, the question I want to ask in this paper is how is the microbial risk of drinking raw donkey milk both perceived and managed?

In order to explore this, I firstly offer a brief general overview of donkey milk farming where I set it within the context of other forms of dairy farming in Croatia. I then turn to explore how both donkey milk farmers perceive and manage microbial risk. I consider their practices of storing and transporting milk, and how they employ scientific discourses to manage microbial risk. I also focus on the consumers in detail. I ask who are the persons who drink this milk, how did they come to decide to drink it, and what effects they consider their consumption of donkey milk has had on either their own, or their child's, health.

Having done this, in the very last part of this paper I suggest that a repeated form of "appropriation" is visible, both in the milking of jennies whilst they are still feeding their foals, to employing humanness as a way of conceptually reducing microbial risk, to presenting donkey milk as a "natural antibiotic".

Getting back to the lost raw-milk cheese? A library of indigenous strains in the French Alps

Authors: Elise Demeulenaere (CNRS)  email
Christine de SAINTE MARIE (INRA)  email

Short Abstract

In the French Alps, organizations of raw-milk cheese producers reinvest a library of indigenous strains collected 30 years ago in the region to enhance the typicality of their cheese. It seems that these indigenous strains will help producers getting back to their lost raw-milk cheese.

Long Abstract

In Savoie (French Alps) where raw milk cheese is predominant, the production of raw-milk cheese has followed the same historical evolution as in any other places affected by the modernization of agriculture. The introduction of milking machines in farms, the transformation of cheese workshops to comply with constraining norms have led to a drastic drop of the total count of microorganisms in raw-milk within a single decade. Cheese makers have had to supplement their milk with industrial ferments to continue producing cheese.

In the present context where the sector of raw-milk cheeses is threatened by emerging pathogenic crises (STEC - suspected to be highly risky), organizations of raw-milk cheese producers have adopted two strategies. First, they have put in place a so-called "Pass Lait Cru", a kind of guide to good hygiene practice in the production of milk. Second, they focus on a library of indigenous strains collected 30 years ago in the region to enhance the typicality of their cheese and differentiate it. It seems that these indigenous strains conserved since 30 years will help producers getting back to their lost raw-milk cheese. But microbiologists contest this conception arguing that what makes cheese is not several strains but a whole flora that should be conserved and maintained in-situ.

Coping with microbes work in wine

Author: Genevieve Teil (INRA)  email

Short Abstract

For terroir vintners, microbes are seen as authors of the wine quality and require care and respect. For their challengers, they are simple operators of a biological process. Is it possible to deal with these two opposite views on the standing of the living beings we call “microbes”?

Long Abstract

Without raising sanitary issues, bacteria and yeasts play nevertheless a decisive role in the wine flavour. However, like all microbes they live in complex multiracial and poorly understood collectives, therefore difficult to work with: a winemaker can hardly anticipate the final quality of the wine he is making. A solution consists in pitching the wine with selected yeasts. A massive addition of yeasts prevents the development of other strains and make the fermentation more deterministic. Selected yeasts can even help to better fit the demands with its changing tastes and requirements, by bringing about particular flavours in the wine.

This commonplace understanding of markets management is challenged by a vintners who denunciate this artifice which denatures the wines quality. According to them, wines have to be the true expression of their terroir and the product of the indigenous microbes. Resorting to indigenous, wild yeasts and microbes is therefore compulsory to achieve a true terroir quality reflecting the diversity of nature.

The coexistence of these two understandings of wine quality faces a big issue within the AOP management. The highly diversified and unpredictable production of the terroir vintners is accused by their challengers to mislay the consumer. On the contrary the standardisation induced by yeast pitching is charged with boring him and leading to exaggerated competition and price collapse. These two interpretations of quality are equally acceptable; and the main challenge for the AOP today is to help these two antinomic ways of winemaking to cohabit.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.