As June is National Dairy month, I thought it would be a great idea to reflect on the tradition of dairy agriculture not only in Western NY, but across cultures and how milk, cheese and dairy products have played a crucial role in shaping our cultures of today.
Last month we had our cheese consultant-Alex-at the creamery with us training our new staff on the proper techniques and procedures to produce our two Alpine styled cheeses. Alex hails from the French Alps and has worked in the cheese industry for over 10 years professionally, learning to first make cheese when he was 15 years old. Using cheese making as a vessel, he has since traveled the world to consult small-medium sized creameries with their cheese production. Although hundreds of types of cheese can be made by variation in the process-its essence remains the same. A combination of regional culture and tradition is why we have so many of the varieties of cheese in the world today. Take a look next time you are in the grocery store-the feta of Greece, the gruyere of France, the paneer of India. Cheese, like one is an international gold mine of diversity.
This May I had the incredible opportunity to take a holiday and visit Scandinavia – specifically the countries of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland. Traveling throughout these countries in Europe, it was clear that dairy agriculture plays a large role in the food of these communities. From the “brown cheese” of Norway, to the Skyr of Iceland – dairy can be seen from field to fork. I had the opportunity to visit a few dairies in Iceland, where I learned that most dairy farms are much smaller than ours (30-80 head) and they only have one breed of cow – the Icelandic Red! These cows have genetics that are well suited to the harsh climate in the region, and produce a higher fat milk than our Holsteins. With only 250,000 total cows in Iceland, dairy production quantity isn’t high but they are able to produce all of what Iceland demands. Many farms are attempting to diversify their product line, including yogurts, cheeses and ice creams to entice agritourism and visibility to the local and international community. It was an experience to see these small farms able to showcase a part of their heritage and culture while encouraging the community to eat more dairy products!
As I was embarking on my travels, I held in mind the prospect of our cheese being sold in the coming months, what this product means to the Burley’s and their expression of their culture to our community. Just how Alex grew up with farming, dairy and cheese making in his French culture, dairy has shaped the lives of many in our region and across the globe.
From the fields that the cows graze in to the milk products we consume, everything relates and has a story to tell. It has become clearer to me the more I have traveled that cultures are all different, but also the same. The way we organize around agriculture and food is universal-our traditions may have grown and waned, but the essence of farming from the land we have and creating nutritious products from our soil is the story that all of us want to share. As we are now in production of our cheese, we are eager for the coming months as our cheese and story will be shared with our communities. Stay tuned for more updates as we look forward to sharing more with you!