France’s strict cheese-making rules leave sheep farmers at mercy of the wolves

Sheep farmers in France were set to protest on Monday at what they see is the government’s failure to protect their animals from attacks by wolves. They claim one of the problems is the strict regulations for making cheeses.

France's strict cheese-making rules leave sheep farmers at mercy of the wolves
Photo: AFP

Some 2,000 farmers were set to descend on the central French city of Lyon on Monday to demand the government take action to deal with a rise in wolf attacks against their livestock.

Farmers in southern France say they are “powerless” against the rising number of sheep slayings by wolves. They fear their livelihoods are in danger unless the government takes the necessary action to cull the predators.

Over 8,000 farm animals, mostly sheep, were killed in attacks blamed on wolves in the past year — mainly in the south-east of the country.

So far this year, wolves have killed 4,153 animals in France, according to an official government tally.

In July the government gave the green light for the slaughter of up to 40 wolves by July 2018 — unchanged from 2016/2017 — representing a little over 10 percent of France's growing wolf population.

Farmers in the southern department of Aveyron, where sheep are particularly prone to attacks by the five or six wolfs who prowl the area, say that electric fences and fearsome dogs are powerless in the face of the predators.


And building fortress sheep pens would be futile anyway given that many farmers wouldn't be allowed to use them.

Farmers claim one of the main reasons their sheep are vulnerable to the wolves is the need to stick to the strict regulations surrounding the production of one of France’s famous cheeses that is made in the area.

Roquefort is a sheep milk blue cheese from Aveyron and is recognized as a geographical indication with a protected designation of origin.

Among the AOC regulations around its production the cheese must be aged in the aged in the natural Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.

But another of the strict regulations states:  “The sheep must be on pasture, whenever possible, in an area including most of Aveyron and parts of neighboring departments.”

One Aveyron breeder François Giacobbi told AFP: “The Aveyron department has 800,000 sheep. It’s a real pantry for the wolf.”

Giacobbi says because sheep have to spend most of the year in open pasture they are particularly vulnerable to wolf attacks.

Farming unions in Aveyron are demanding that the government adopts a “zero-attack” policy to protect both the farmers, the livestock and one of France's most-loved cheeses.


Wolves have set up home in the Paris region, experts say

According to France’s rules on killing wolves, known as “Plan Loup”, once 32 wolves have been shot — usually during organised hunts — farmers are only allowed shoot a wolf to thwart an imminent strike or end an attack that is already underway.

A further eight wolves can be killed in such circumstances.

But farmers say the chances of them actually catching one in the act are slim given the huge grazing areas they must survey.

They are demanding the right to be allowed to shoot wolves on sight when it looks like an attack is about to take place.

Michéle Boudoin France’s national sheep federation said “the wolf must become afraid of man”.

Boudoin says the wolf attacks are endangering rural life in 33 departments in France.

Ecology Minister Nicolas Hulot said France needed to strike a balance between safeguarding wolves, a protected species in Europe, and protecting livestock.

Successive French governments have, however, struggled to reconcile the competing demands of the pro-wolf and pro-farm lobbies.

After being eradicated in the 1930s wolves crossed back into France from Italy in the 1990s.

They are now to be found in 30 of France's 101 “departments” or administrative areas and are even advancing on Paris.









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.