Farmstead. Artisan. Specialty. Organic. Grass-fed. These are all labels we’ve become accustomed to seeing on cheese labels. But could the next big thing be Unglaciated Cheese?
A new report published recently by the Dairy Business Innovation Center in Wisconsin thinks so. It says raw milk cheesemakers could carve out a marketing niche by identifying a new designation for cheeses made in the unglaciated, rolling hills of Wisconsin’s Driftless region.
A 135-page report titled: “Application of the Concept of Terroir in the American Context: Taste of Place and Wisconsin Unpasteurized Milk Cheeses,” by Gersende Cazaux, explores the possibility of adapting the French concept of “terroir” to raw milk cheeses made in the Driftless region of western Wisconsin. The full report is available here on the DBIC website.
Terroir has traditionally been used to explain a product`s specificity as a result of where and how it is made – think French wines and cheeses – but Cazaux believes the concept of “terroir” or what she refers to as “taste of place” could be a marketing tool for raw milk cheesemakers in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin. As part of her research, Cazaux surveyed all Wisconsin raw milk cheesemakers in July, 2010. Cheesemakers were asked to provide specific information about cheese production, dairy farming systems and cheesemaking practices.
Cazaux found that Wisconsin is home to 22 raw milk cheesemaking operations: 10 farmsteads, nine creameries, two dairy farms and one cheese-aging operation. Of these 22 raw milk cheesemaking operations, 16 are located in the Driftless Region, and 15 of those 16 cheesemakers use grass-based, rBGH-free milk.
To characterize a cheese production using a specific terroir or taste of place label, Cazaux says the major influencing factor is how producers approach their raw material: the milk. Her analysis shows that 14 of the cheesemakers use milk with a high aromatic potential to express the taste of place in their cheese, either by operating as a farmstead operation, using a limited number of dairy farm suppliers, not heat-treating the milk, and/or by transforming it into cheese within 48 hours after milking.
The DBIC report concludes that raw milk cheeses using the concept of terroir or taste of place in the geographical Driftless region would be possible, as the cheesemakers share the same specific natural characteristics and common practices.
The DBIC now plans to work with the existing Driftless Region Food and Farm Project and explore creating a taste of place designation for Wisconsin unpasteurized cheeses crafted in the Driftless Region. Perhaps Unglaciated Cheese could soon be coming to store near you.