Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition
Oral Presentation Session
In the ‘theatre of value’ of heritage foods, mountain cheese holds a special place. This paper focusses on the ‘reinvention’ of an Italian blue cheese, Strachitunt, which obtained the European geographical indication PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) in 2014.
While the main argument to obtain the PDO focused on its area of origin and the pedigree of its traditional technique, this veritable ‘war of the cheeses’ was won thanks to the stakeholders’ capacity to profile it as the unique product of the skilled labor of a traditional family, who ‘saved’ this niche cheese from oblivion. In particular, the marketing of Strachitunt was associated with one person, ‘the savior of Strachitunt’, portrayed as the pater familias of traditional herding, transhumant dairy farming, and artisanal cheese-making.
In the cultural economy of this heritage cheese, however, innovation and investment were key. The cheese producers had to cunningly straddle multiple discourses of conservation and of ‘improvement’, while carefully positioning themselves as small-scale, traditional, and tipico. In the discourse of tipicita’, the savoir faire of the cheese-maker and the artisanal scale of the production are epitomized in the hand-making of the cheese and its puncturing, which eventually produces the ‘natural blue’.
However the very scale of this minuscule PDO produced contentious results, particularly regarding the positioning of mountain craft production vis-à-vis the economy of scale of lowland production, and what this means for the sustainability of craft cheese-making and the benefits it can bring to broader communities.