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Climate Change Drives French Cheesemakers to Rethink Rules

With summers getting warmer and drier in France, cheesemakers are waving the white flag and calling for century-old production rules to adapt to a new normal.   

According to a recent feature in the New York Times, a number of French cheesemakers have expressed concern that unprecedented weather is impacting their ability to uphold certain highly esteemed production standards. 

Curious about which strict production rules are up for debate? It turns out it’s the Appellation d’Origine Protégée AOP–or Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)–standards that regulate some of the most prestigious cheeses in France, like Camembert de Normandie and Roquefort. To date, only 46 of the hundreds of cheeses produced in France meet the coveted caliber. 

For a cheese to receive AOP classification, it must meet certain standards. For example, the cheese may need to be made in a specific region, follow a certain recipe, contain a particular type of milk, or adhere to a distinct affinage process. “But with climate change and droughts, all that has been called into question,” Simon Bouchet, who works for the Picodon—a French goat cheese—association, told the Times. 

During an intense heatwave in France last year, more than half of producers received special permission to break industry rules, while at least one cheese, Salers, was forced to stop production altogether. Others combated the unusual conditions by turning to drought-resistant crops like sorghum to see if their goats could graze a different plant that’s better suited for drier weather.

But all of these changes in the production process bring up questions about whether or not these adapted AOP cheeses will yield the same distinct flavors and textures they’re known for. One cheesemaker plans to sample the new version of its cheese to a panel of tasters to see if it meets a 20-part criteria and lives up to the traditional varieties.  

“We are studying all the aspects of cheesability,” Philippe Thorey, a cheese production expert, told the outlet. The results of these experiments will dictate further conversations on whether or not traditional rules must adapt. 

Ashia Aubourg

Ashia Aubourg is culture's Assistant Digital Editor. She received her BA in Food Studies and Policy Studies from Syracuse University, where she researched components that make up equitable food systems. She previously held print and digital roles at Food & Wine, Cuisine Noir, America's Test Kitchen, and others, where her writing unearthed underrepresented narratives within food, travel, and culture. Before starting her writing career, she held food policy and social impact roles across various nonprofits and companies. Ashia currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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