Wikipedia seeks help to explain French cheese

Internet site Wikipedia has asked cheese-lovers to help it explain France’s dizzying array of fromages by sending in photos to help cheese-lovers distinguish their Cantals from their Roqueforts.

Wikipedia seeks help to explain French cheese
Know a thing or two about French cheese? Then read on. Photo: Shutterstock

Wikipedia, through the non-profit organisation Wikimedia France, has launched an appeal for help named "WikiCheese" after it realised that its entries on French cheese lacked photos.

"If you read Wikipedia, you will notice that the articles about cheeses are little illustrated or not at all," Wikimedia France wrote in its appeal on a crowdfunding platform.  

“We need your support to buy at least 200 types of cheeses, the necessary photo equipment and some books to write Wikipedia articles."

It said was having problems classifying and describing the vast array of cheeses available in France, which is estimated to have 350 to 400 distinct varieties.

“What does a Black Brie look like? A Couronne Lochoise? And what about a Tymsboro?” Wikipedia asked on its blog announcing the creation of WikiCheese.

The operation to provide more photos of mouth-watering cheese will be financed through the crowd-funding platform and aims to collect 5,000 euros from donors.

Those who contribute will be invited to a monthly cheese-eating session at Wikipedia’s Paris offices to learn about products such as Pont-l'évêque or Saint-Marcellin, and watch them be professionally snapped by volunteer photographers before getting to sample the goods.

They will then be encouraged to write learned articles on the participative website that is funded entirely by donations.

By Wednesday, 36 people had contributed 1,680 euros to the crowdfunding initiative that aims to collect a total of 5,000 euros before it closes in 36 days.

The monthly cheese soirées will continue for the next 18 months.

The plan is to photographically document 200 cheeses, but if the initiative makes 8,000 euros then a further 100 cheeses will be included. If donations continue after that then even more varieties will be covered and a reporting assignment to a cheese-maker will be funded by Wikipedia.

When the WikiCheese project is complete, the encyclopedia plans to make all the high-definition cheese pictures available on Wikimedia Commons, from where they can be used for free by anyone.

Some of the photos are already online here.  

The WikiCheese project is part of the encyclopedia’s drive to make its site more professional.

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Why is everyone in France talking about Mont d’Or cheese today?

Mont d’Or cheese is a French treasure you can only find at a specific time of the year. But why's that?

Why is everyone in France talking about Mont d’Or cheese today?
A Mont d'Or cheese. Photo: AFP

Today is the day!

September 10th marks the beginning of the sale of the famous Mont d’Or cheese in France.

This rich cheese with a rich history borrows its name from the highest point of the Doubs département (located in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region in Eastern France) and goes way back since it was already mentioned in the 1280 Encyclopédie des Fromages (the Cheese Encyclopeadia).  


You can also find it under the name Vacherin, but rather in Switzerland than in its original region.

Though it is much loved, the Mont d’Or cheese is also much awaited as it can only be savoured from September 10th to May. Here’s why.

A seasonal cheese

The Mont d’Or was first created after peasants looked to create a smaller cheese with their “winter milk”, as the production was reduced during the coldest months. A raw milk that, according to the Fromagerie La Ferté, gives it a “texture that offers a soft and creamy consistency without being too runny”.

It can only be produced from August 15th to March 31st, hence why its appearances in dairies are seasonal.

Consequently, it became a winter cheese and could not be produced in the summer since it can’t handle hot temperatures. During spring and summer, where milk is more abundant, Comté cheese is made. 

READ ALSO: This is how much the French are obsessed with cheese

Specific production process

But other than being unobtainable during the sunny months, its making process also follows a list of specifications since it has both the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée and the Appelation d’Origine Protégée.

These designations attest to the authenticity of the product and of the savoir-faire of its producers while protecting its name not only in France but in the entire European Union.

The Mont d’Or can then only be produced in a designated area of 95 Haut-Doubs municipalities – all at least 700 metres above sea level – and made at of raw milk from grass-fed Montbeliarde or French Simmental herds.

A woman cutting the spruce straps that circle the Mont d'Or cheese. Photo: AFP

The cheese is also supported by a circle of spruce wood to provide it from running. After at least a 12-day maturing (during which the cheese is scrubbed daily with salted water), the Mont d’Or terminates its ripening process in a slightly smaller spruce box that gives it its wrinkled crust as a nod to the mountain it took its name from.

But these many specificities do not prevent producers from delivering (on average) 5,500 tonnes of Mont d’Or each year.