Roquefort, an ancestral cheese in the eye of the agricultural industry
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Roquefort, an ancestral cheese in the eye of the agricultural industry

Posted on Friday, December 02, 2022 at 09:25

The agri-food industry is dominated by the production of Roquefort, an emblematic cheese that matures in legendary cellars in southern Aveyron, a stranglehold that some see as threatening the soon-to-be-centennial AOP, but with few left to independent manufacturers.

In the midst of his delusions, Christian Cross does not lose his temper in the face of what he describes as the centuries-old “erosion” of knowledge.

“When I was 10 there were 4,000 farms, today it’s 1,300!” , owes this to a 56-year-old breeder who lives in Saint-Rome-de-Cernon, near Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, where volumes of the first recognized French cheese with the designation of origin are matured in 1925, which became a protected designation of origin ( PDO) recognized at the European level.

Behind him, a huge inscription “Société tu m’auras pas” is painted on the wall of his agricultural building, a reference to a song by Reynaud and to the Société des Caves, a subsidiary of Lactalis, the main industrialist in the sector.

With a herd of 380 animals, Christian Cross represents the peasant union within the General Confederation of Roquefort (CGR), where the seven milk producers and manufacturers, three industrialists and four independents sit.

He denounced the “fall in milk prices” and the number of producers “since Lactalis bought the Société des Caves in 1992”.

– Decrease in consumption –

CGR Secretary General Sébastien Vignette speaks instead of “multi-year erosion of depreciation”, at 1% per annum, a decline comparable to the farms allocated to Roquefort.

As for the dairy multinational, which claims to produce “52% of the 15,885 tons of Roquefort’s total volume,” it specifies that it “significantly increased” the price of milk in October.

With a turnover of 22 billion euros, including 120 million from Roquefort, the group estimates that it creates 5,000 direct and indirect jobs in the region.

Huge weight, particularly in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon where Lactalis owns 80% of the buildings and land, including the majority of the cellars, large natural grottoes where volumes are aligned on wooden spaces for a unique refinement.

Hugh Mewdry, general manager of the AOP and terroir band Lactalis, told AFP that the group is playing “the role of a locomotive to pull this AOP out.”

“The sector is in a bit of a negative light. Our first line of action is to stabilize volumes, and once it stabilizes, we’ll have to start growing again,” he explains.

But for Véronique Riches-Lerouge, President and Founder of the Fromage de Terroir Association, the presence of such actors in such a model sector is “toxic”.

She believes, “Professional cheeses account for 90% of the French cheese plate. They have something to stand for. Why do they come in AOP? It’s for the picture.”

Hugues Meaudre prefers to evoke the “Lactalis shareholders’ product love”.

“In AOP, which is a high-end segment comparable to the haute couture segment, we must limit the presence of multinationals to allow the sector to hatch in a harmonious manner,” replies Ms. Rich-Lerougue.

– haute couture or industry –

For Vincent Combs, head of the Combs House, which hand-produces 180 tons of Roquefort Viewburger annually, “the advantage is that everyone has their place, their market, their quality.”

“We respect the specifications, but we put other restrictions on ourselves to have a superior product,” confirms this master cheese maker, the youngest producer of AOP.

But according to Christian Kroos, with the Société des Caves, which his family has been supplying for three generations, the quandary is the price of the milk and the proportion that has changed.

“Roquefort is well paid. But we ask the manufacturer to transfer at least 50% of our production to Roquefort, and it is hardly 10%,” laments this farmer who sells his milk at an average price of 1.17 euros per liter.

“In the Roquefort basin, we collect 117 million liters of sheep’s milk, and a third of this milk is destined for Roquefort,” assures Hugo Meudry, and the other two-thirds are used for “diversification”, that is, for industrial sheep cheese.

However, Sébastien Vignette is delighted with the “Live Well” set as all the actors, industrialists and small producers are working on “Roquefort tomorrow”, a “massive tourism development project” that is supposed to see the light of day in 2025, for the centenary of the founding of the oil development company. Amman.

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