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MONSANTO

Bayer-Monsanto deal ‘danger for our food’: French chefs

Some of France's top chefs on Tuesday denounced the $66-billion takeover of controversial seed firm Monsanto by chemicals giant Bayer as a "danger for our dinner plates".

Bayer-Monsanto deal 'danger for our food': French chefs
A demonstration against Monsanto. File photo: DPA

“Nature, diversity and the quality of our food should not be crushed by the freedom-destroying steamroller of Bayer-Monsanto,” they declared in an open letter signed by more than 100 chefs, winemakers and patissiers.

“This new giant of seeds and pesticides has only one ambition – to control the complete food chain… citizens cannot stand by and watch their plates be filled with chemicals,” it added.

The chefs, who included the Argentina-born Mauro Colagreco, who runs the Mirazur restaurant on the French Riviera which was named the sixth best restaurant in the world earlier this year, said the EU was right to be worried by the merger.

The bloc is investigating the likely impact of the massive deal — the biggest ever undertaken by a German company — which would need the approval of regulators.

Monsanto's genetically modified crops, its herbicide Roundup and other pesticides “threaten cultural as well as agricultural diversity”, the chefs said in their letter published on the Atabula website.

“Without quality and healthy products and a diversity of crops, cooks can no longer exercise their creative talents,” added the letter, which was also signed by three-star Michelin chefs Yannick Alleno and Michel and Sebastien Bras.

Friends of the Earth have already labelled the tie-up a “marriage made in hell”.

“This mega corporation will be doing its best to force damaging pesticides and GM seeds into our countryside,” campaigner Adrian Bebb said in a statement.

The National Farmers Union in the US said the Bayer deal, along with other pending agricultural mergers, “are being made to benefit the corporate boardrooms at the expense of family farmers, ranchers, consumers and rural economies.”

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FOOD & DRINK

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!

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