One of the most common statements I hear from students at the end of an in-depth cheesemaking course is “I’ll never look at the cost of artisan cheese the same.” When made using traditional methods, with high quality milk and in small batches (the very definition of artisan cheesemaking), these cheeses have a very high input cost. Even with prices higher than those of most imported and industrial versions, it’s rare for a handmade cheese to truly reflect its cost—and to return a living wage to the producer.
Either by producing milk themselves or by nurturing relationships with select dairy producers, many artisan cheesemakers encourage production models that involve more expenses than those of conventional, high-volume fluid milk—including humane treatment of animals, high-quality, natural feed, and sometimes even better farm worker wages. Yet each gallon of thoughtfully produced milk will only give the cheesemaker about one pound or less of cheese! If you then add on hours of production—and, possibly, months of labor-intensive aging—that little pound of cheese becomes even more expensive. If the producer must then also account for distribution costs like transport, margins, and mark-ups, well…I think you get the idea.
Fortunately, when you purchase such a responsibly- and artfully-created cheese, you rarely need to buy as much as you might when making a pizza or nachos. Rather than a price per pound, you are more likely to buy a few ounces at a time. All of that attention to detail throughout the process adds up to powerful flavors and quality that can’t be surpassed. I encourage people to“taste” all of the good they are doing for the cheesemaker, the farmer, the goats, cows, and sheep—and possibly even the planet—when they invest in the true artisan cheese experience.