The role of the enzymes

“Here they use all the enzymes, even the most isolated shepherds, even those of the Arctic Circle!”: this from the depressing telephone call in the office a few weeks ago from one of our collaborators who was visiting the Presidia and food communities in Norway.  Nothing new, actually, since for years we have seen how diffused the use of industrial enzymes is in dairy production and, unfortunately, not only in industrial production.
In 2006 when I went up into the Pyrenees, in the Bearn region, for the launch of a new Presidium of raw sheep’s milk cheese, I noticed that industrial enzymes had arrived in France, even in mountain country, even in the house of 5th generation producer-shepherds.  And to the question “why?” had they succumbed to this practice – those that sacrificed with hardship to maintain the pastures of the area, that rigorously made cheese with raw milk, that scrupulously respected local tradition – the disarming response was: the technical specialists advised us to do this and, as a matter of fact, using them does make it more difficult to mess up the process.  When, 10 years ago or so, we launched the campaign to defend raw milk, we succeeded in large part to make people – at least those consumers who were more aware and those producers who before were ashamed to admit they used raw milk – understand the importance of being able to continue to produce without pasteurization in order to guarantee the excellence and localness of cheese, but we underestimated the phenomenon of industrial enzymes.  That which we gained, on one hand, we lost on the other, because the standardizing effect of the enzymes clearly prevails on the vitality and on the unique localness of the raw milk.  And, like that, the diffusion of this practice silently, like an epidemic, propagated itself throughout Europe, infecting even the most scrupulous and sustainable producers.  Why such a quick and generalized diffusion of the practice?  Because using prepared enzymes is easier than producing them yourself on the dairy farm (whey or milk inoculations), because the practice of cooling the milk from multiple milkings and making the cheese only two or even three days after milking means having assistance, because in doing so you substantially reduce variability and the risk of waste.  And because for a technical specialist or a consultant, it is a nice way of simplifying life and guaranteeing good results for the 2000 or more types of cheeses that exist in the world.  Because with industrial enzymes it is enough to distinguish between families (cooked, raw, washed rind, fresh, semi-aged, aged, etc.) and not by the type of cheese: in a family they end up all looking alike, from the Artic Circle to the Madonie.  And like that, the way opened up for industry, which knows very well this type of production, how best to use it and how to get costs ever lower.  Is this the type of innovation that, according to some lawmakers – that do not miss the opportunity to accuse Slow Food of being stuck in the past and having a stubborn attachment to tradition – we must accept? Is this the end of the match that we were expecting?
Tastes that are all the same and orchestrated by scientists from laboratories for the propagation and conservation of enzymes?  Well, we do not agree, and with us on this are many producers that also do not agree, first of all those producers of Parmigiano Reggiano, that have always made for themselves the whey culture necessary for cheese production. We must resist and communicate:  this is the commitment that awaits us as we kick off this edition of Cheese.  Let’s really play up these topics, make people understand their importance, warn producers:  industrial enzymes are an unknown territory.  Also for conscientious consumers, and even for professionals and employees who tend to underestimate the problem, or even ignore it.

Piero Sardo
[email protected]




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