France faces Christmas cheese shortage

Unseasonably grim weather over the summer has limited cheese production in France with a potentially disastrous effect for end-of-year festivities.

Saint-Nectaire cheese production has been hampered by bad weather over the summer. French farmers warn of shortages over the festive period.
Saint-Nectaire cheese production has been hampered by bad weather over the summer. French farmers warn of shortages over the festive period. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP)

Heavy rains over the summer have lead to a particularly poor hay harvest, meaning that cows – who usually get extra nutrition from hay – have produced less milk than usual.

“So far, in terms of collected volume [of milk], we have seen a decrease of 15 to 20 percent,” said Arnauld Dischamp, vice president of Dischamp cheese makers. 

Dischamp is concerned over getting enough milk to make the cheese usually ordered in bulk for Christmas and New Year celebrations.

“All winter, we risk having a lack of volume and availability,” he warned in an interview on BFMTV, saying that there could be “tensions on the availability” of cheese stocks due to high demand at end of year parties. 

READ ALSO French summer was officially the coldest and dampest since 2014

Dischamps produces cheeses such as Saint-Nectaire, Cantal and Bleu d’Auvergne. Because these cheeses have protected geographical status, he is not able to make them from milk that comes from other, sunnier regions of France. 

Following laws of supply and demand, it is likely that the price of cheeses will increase over the Christmas period. 

This is not the first time France has faced a cheese shortage. Last year, there were fears over a raclette shortfall after demand soared during lockdown (a 20-25 percent increase over the course of the year). 


Ironically, the worldwide consumption of dairy products has helped lead to this crisis in the first place.

Cows produce a huge amount of methane, which is at least 84 times more powerful in terms of the greenhouse effect than CO2. At least 27 percent of methane emissions come from animal agriculture, with cows the most significant contributors. 

Earlier this summer, French climatologist Françoise Vimeux explained to The Local that while it is difficult to attribute a singular weather event to climate change, periods of unseasonably intense rain are more likely. 

“We know that heating up the atmosphere and the oceans exacerbates incidents of intense rain,” she said. “We know that when the atmosphere warms by one degree, it can hold 7 percent more water vapour. So when a weather event comes and cools down this air mass, there’s a lot more water which can fall.”

Bad weather over the summer has also threatened the annual lentil harvest, which was half the normal level in the Haute-Loire region this summer. In Alsace, honey production has fallen by 80 percent. Green bean, pea, carrot, cauliflower and brocoli harvests have also suffered. 

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Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?