Have you ever wondered why most cheeses you find in your local supermarket are so inexpensive compared to artisan or imported cheeses? Maybe you have asked yourself why a pound of cheddar in the supermarket is only around $6 or $7, yet the cheddar you see offered by an artisan cheese maker is, say, $11 for 5 ounces. Well, when it comes to the difference between commercial and artisan it can be boiled down to quality vs. quantity. Commercial cheese making focuses on the ability to efficiently produce cheese in large quantities while artisan cheese making is focused on producing the highest quality product possible.
There has been a recent shift back to handmade or artisanal items and away from mass-produced foods found in typical grocery stores. People today seek out what they consider to be more authentic experiences – more personal, unbranded, untransformed, more transparent, handmade, and local. Artisanal food production is on the rise to satisfy this growing need for nonconformity and truly unique food items.
However, is there a difference between mass-produced items and those that are made by hand? Honestly? Yes. Why? In most cases, the artisan takes extra steps or specialized care to ensure a better overall product. This is particularly true for fermented foods, such as cheese.
Industrial cheese farms need to make as much cheese as quickly as possible to be as profitable as possible. Their farms tend to:
- Computer-controlled operations
- Immediate pasteurization
- Large mechanical presses to quickly get the product made into cheese and onto packaging
- Shipped out as promptly as possible, so they don’t have to pay to store it
- And more
In contrast, artisanal cheese makers typically make their cheeses by hand in small batches.
Their cheeses have better depth of flavor due to factors such as:
- Milk may come from animals (such as cows, sheep, goats, and more)
- Animals typically eat a more diverse diet which gives the cheese a wider range of volatile flavor compounds
- Some cheeses may be made from a single animal only
- Some make their cheese from raw (unpasteurized) milk, which preserves indigenous microflora
- Cheeses are pressed more slowly for better texture
- Cheeses are typically not vacuum packaged
- Some are aged on wooden boards for additional flavor
- Artisanal cheeses may be stored in “cheese caves” (natural caves dug in hillsides) to control temperature while aging
- And more
Another significant distinction between artisanal and mass-produced is the variability of the final product. Milk itself varies greatly depending on what the animal eats, what stage of lactation they are in, what season it is, and more. For example, when it comes to cow’s milk, their production is lowest during the warm parts of the year and also dramatically decreases once they hit the 25th day of lactation, then begin to rise again after the 50th day. Artisanal cheese makers tend to switch varieties or alter their cheese procedures during these times. However, large corporations want their products to remain precisely the same or uniform no matter what, so they tend to stagger their animal’s lactation periods and make sure all eat exactly the same diet.
Artisan producers are really focused on the art and craft of making the highest quality, most flavorful product they can. Cheese is no different than other artisan food products in this way. Some artisans develop specific methods or recipes that they keep secret, which goes a long way towards making their products unique. Artisans also pride themselves on the quality of ingredients they use, where they are sourced, and the methods of putting them together to ultimately form their own products.
You may be wondering “Is artisan cheese healthier to eat than mass-produced cheese?” The main reason people seek out artisan cheese over mass-produced cheese is for the flavor. However, quite a few varieties of artisanal cheese, particularly those made from raw milk, do contain beneficial bacteria, enzymes, and vitamins that mass produced cheeses lack.
Though, a lot of people are happy to buy mass-produced cheeses due to the fact that the flavor and texture are the same from shopping trip to shopping trip. However, a growing number of people are turning to artisanal food items for the wide variety of flavors, textures, and unique ingredients that are hard, if not impossible, to find in mass-produced foods.
What are your thoughts on artisan foods? Have you ever had handmade cheese? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!