Charles de Gaulle once quipped when asked how he enjoyed governing France, “Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays où il existe 246 variétés de fromage?” (“How would you like to govern a country which has 246 types of cheese?”) Well, if there are 246 types of French cheese, there are probably an equal number of different types of cheese come from the interior Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. Which stands to good reason because that state is just about the same size, only slightly larger, than France.
Just as the sheer number of French cheeses can overwhelm all but the professional turophile (look it up here), the nomenclature of cheeses from Minas Gerais is equally confusing. Some of the best artisanal cheeses are produced only in small quantities and remain virtually unknown outside their area of production. And to complicate matters, many of the cheeses have similar sounding names, or identical names.
In an effort to relieve some of this confusion and to create a systematic naming and cataloguing of the many mineiro (from Minas Gerais) cheeses, the central market of Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais, has produced a cheese map of the state, indicating the four principal areas of cheese production in Minas Gerais and detailing within those four areas the names of the municipalities that make cheese. The four main areas of production are called Cerrado, Araxá, Canastra and Serro. Each of these areas gives its name to cheeses produced locally, but each is also split into small units which can further define a cheese’s origins. The map is below. (Note that the map is high resolution – if you wish to read the detail, simply click on the map).
In order to systematize the geographical names for these cheeses, the Instituto Nacional da Propriedade Industrial of Brazil has begun to grant indicação geográfica status (geographical indication) to mineiro cheeses, starting with artisanal cheese from the Serro region. This IG status, as its known, is similar to European schemes to preserve and protect the geographical integrity of a number of food products, such as cheese, processed meats and wines. France has had a system called AOC in place to safeguard wines for many years, and Italy grants DOC status to many food products. Brazil’s IG status is intended to serve the same purpose. Combining protected name status with promotional activities and products like the cheese map will, it is hoped, preserve and protect those artisanal cheeses which are an important part of the gastronomic heritage of Minas Gerais.