Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Cheese Artisans and American Somewhereness

From TFP:
An artisan is someone who uses distinctive or original recipes to make cheese in small batches by hand. They are comparable to those who might produce a piece of furniture or clothing that has a unique design. Their artistry is comparable to bees who extract the sweet nectar from local flowers in order to produce honey that is particular to a certain area.[1]

In the case of American cheese makers, their creativity results in a product that is refreshingly home-made and is the result of a tradition that dates back to the early seventeenth century. It was then that farms on the East Coast, most especially New England, began making cheese. It had been a predominantly at-home or on-the-farm industry because the milk had to be consumed quickly or processed in other ways. The cream which floated to the top was used for butter leaving what was left — skimmed milk — for making cheese.

Until the early 1800’s, there was no such thing as a cheese factory because there was simply no need for one. With the influx of European immigrants and the sudden growth of America, all that changed. Civilization and the cheese-making craft eventually moved west towards the Great Lakes. What started out small would become a quite large industry.

Cheese factories, often family operated, began popping up all over Wisconsin where the cow population kept pace with humans. It was not long until the railroads reached this region and along with it came a greater demand for cheese. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, cheese factories continued to multiply across southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

In 1903, a Canadian-born businessman named James L. Kraft started a wholesale cheese business in Chicago. After a bumpy start, the company would go on to develop thirty-one varieties by 1914. Two years later, Kraft invented a way to pasteurize cheese that eliminated the need for refrigeration. He was granted a patent for a product that came to be known as processed cheese.[2] Thus the “one-cheese” myth was born.

What most people do not know is that while some companies were sacrificing quality for quantity, others were not. (Read entire post.)

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