Close to 300 participants of the Symposium got to savor cheeses from across Brazil, hear about their traditions, and exchange stories on the battle to keep the artisanal production going in face of legislation (or lack of) that threatens to put the special cheeses out of existence.
SerTãoBras, NGO that has supported small raw milk cheese producers since 2007, proposed and saw unanimously approved at the event, the creation of a National Artisanal Cheese Network. Linking producers, experts and supporters from North to South of Brazil, the network’s immediate aim is to strengthen the fight and press for the legalization of raw milk cheese. It is as well to serve as a springboard for making the various cheeses known, instigating research and coming up with sensible ways to guarantee safety while safeguarding quality and mode of production of the cheeses.
At the end of the three-day event, organized by Embrapa Agroindústria Tropical and Emater/RS, Brazilian agricultural research and technical assistance institutes, the Fortaleza Letter was drawn up to request of governmental authorities and entities of the cheese sector, that immediate legislative measures be taken to maintain and improve the artisanal cheese activity. (See Fortaleza Letter below)
SerTãoBras director Aluísio Marques summed up the importance of the Cheese Network, “for we are advancing in the organization of those interested in legislation changes that will benefit the small producers of artisanal cheeses,” and of the Symposium “in showing to Brazil the great quantity of varieties of artisanal cheeses spread throughout the national territory and which today are on the margins of the law, surviving informally.”
Besides savoring the special cheeses, participants enjoyed viewing and discussing with Director Ratton his recent, well acclaimed documentary, “O mineiro e o queijo” (Minas people and their Minas Cheese), co-sponsored by SerTãoBras.
Report by Robin Geld
1st Brazilian Artisanal Cheese Symposium Fortaleza Letter
Fortaleza, Ceará, Brazil, November 2011
Brazilian artisanal cheeses are precious expressions of our culture. Their special qualities are closely linked with the environment in which they are produced and their traditional “way of making”, expressing the local culture and history of families that across centuries and various generations have kept up their traditions. In Brazil, according to the official IBGE agricultural census of 2006, close to 100 thousand small rural establishments have artisanal cheeses as their main source of income. It is an activity that guarantees rural income and employment, and social, economic and environmental sustainability.
Today this activity faces a serious problem: the inexistence of legislation suited to artisanal production and to raw milk cheese commerce. State and Federal laws do not deal with the specificities of artisanal cheese production, submitting it to the same sanitary and facilities standards of industrial establishments, making artisanal production unfeasible, due to high adaptation costs, unaffordable to the small producer. Furthermore, such adaptation runs counter to the very essence of the artisanal cheese, interfering with the sensorial quality and identity of the product and the “know-how” consolidated centuries ago.
We experience, thus, a paradoxical situation: while many countries in the world have recovered, preserved and protected their cultural and gastronomic inheritance, the Brazilian Government acts otherwise, not making available mechanisms for the preservation of the production of many traditional foods, leading, as with artisanal cheeses, to their disappearance.
In this Symposium we found a public committed to cheese quality, food safety and the maintenance of tradition. Accounts given show that many actions are being taken to improve artisanal cheese quality and recover the history and culture of their producers, who have been working hard to make viable their main economic activity, developed with social and environmental responsibility.
The 1st Brazilian Artisanal Cheese Symposium discussed comprehensively, for three days, the present context of production, its history, its specificities, its limitations and potentialities. The discussions led to the drawing of this document, approved unanimously by the close to 300 participants, to be forwarded to all governmental authorities and entities involved in the sector, soliciting immediate measures for the maintenance of this activity. These measures are:
– Establish sanitary legislation proper for the artisanal production of raw milk cheeses;
– Establish environmental legislation proper for the artisanal production of raw milk cheeses;
– Establish tax legislation proper for the artisanal production of raw milk cheeses;
– Allow the free commerce of artisanal and raw milk cheeses, inspected municipally or by state, in all the national territory;
– Guarantee access to public policies favorable to artisanal producers, such as credit, ATER (technical assistance and rural extension service), training and commerce;
– Promote research centered on production of artisanal cheeses;
– Promote market access of Brazilian artisanal cheeses, nationally and internationally.
Fortaleza, November 25, 2011.
Translated by Robin Geld