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Cows and cheese

Cows were first domesticated around 8000BC in the Middle East and India. The first products to come from this domestication were the traction and milk transformed into cheese.

With the invention of agriculture in Mesopotamia, people settled there. In this area, cheese was a sort of fermented milk, conserved in animal skin flasks, which would become more diversified. The idea of maturing the cheese was applied and the cheese could be conserved for longer, meaning that it could be transported over longer distances. It was these cattle farmers who forced their cows to become beasts of burden. The cows were farm animals at first and then became an animal of commerce (pulling of the carts); they also accompanied the people when they migrated. The expansion of cattle rearing has contributed to the disappearance of the wild ancestor in Europe.

The Romans contributed to the expansion of cattle rearing using slaves as cattle herders and by diffusing the savoir-faire of the cheese makers of the Alpines: pressed, cooked cheese which could be conserved and transported easily was part of the diet of the Roman Legionnaires. During the Middle-Ages the savoir faire of the rearing of cattle was lost in part; although the monasteries continued their work: cheese, along with bread was the principle food given to the pilgrims. Certain breeds were developed by the monasteries (Abondance and Aubrac).

Milk production passed from 2000kg of milk per lactation per cow, to records of more than 18000kg for the best cows, bred using artificial insemination.

In France, the dairy cow livestock is composed of the following breeds :

 * Abondance * Bordelaise * Brune * Jersiaise * Pie rouge des plaines * Prim'holstein (or Française frisonne pie noir) * Rouge flamande * Armoricaine * Aubrac * Aure-et-saint-girons * Bleue du Nord * Maraîchine * Montbéliarde * Normande * Salers * Simmental française * Tarentaise (ou tarine) * Villard-de-lans * Vosgienne

Here are some characteristics of the principle breeds of dairy cow:

The Prim'holstein or Frisonne pie-noire: originates from Holland and has a white and black coat, this is perhaps the most well-known breed. Today, this breed is the most important, and the most prolific of all the dairy cows. It does not produce the richest milk, in fact far from it. The production reaches on average 9100kg per lactation and can be more than 11000kg. The milk contains a butyrous level of 4.07% and 3.33% protein. The success of this breed is due to its rapid growth and adaptability to intensive breeding. (good conformation of the udder and very effective in transforming the rich corn forage.) This breed makes up 80% of the milk collected nationally, destined for industrial dairies to make: yoghurts, bottled milk etc. Often, other breeds are preferred for making cheeses with character (Normande, Montbeliarde, Abondance�?�). This breed is not very well adapted for the fabrication of cheese due to the composition of its milk (less rich in casein, which is necessary for cheese production). Cows which no longer produce milk and are destined for the abattoir are not really favored by butchers, and instead are sold in large supermarkets chains. A large part of the herd is crossbred with meat. The calves are of value because of the conformation of their carcasses.

- La Montbéliarde : This breed has a white head and a body scattered with large patches of red mahogany. Indispensable for the fabrication of the famous Comté cheese, this breed provides a high quality milk which is perfect for making cheese. Its milk is also used in the production of Mont-d�??Or and Morbier, and more and more for Reblechon, Abondance, bleu de Gex, bleu du Vercors, Sassenage and Cantal...It is the principle breed used for the French AOC cheeses. Today, the Montbèliarde resides in its original land, Franche Comté, but also in certain valleys in Auvergne, due to its robustness. This breed provides 7600kg of milk rich in dry matter. It is a breed which is also perfect for meat; it is flavorsome and not very fatty. The bullocks grow quickly and are in demand. These cows can also be crossbred with slaughter cows, giving heavy and flavorsome young, found at the foot of the mountain pasture. These cows are appreciated for their breading qualities; fertility, longevity, capacity to transform the coarse forage and resistance to illnesses (particularly mastitis). Mountain cows do well in the fresh air of the mountain pasture and are good walkers. Their hard hooves allow them to support themselves on the hard surfaced areas in intensive farming. This is therefore a universal breed.

- La Rouge flamande : lovely cow with a brown mahogany coat. The average production of milk is 6600kg per lactation. Its milk, thanks to its richness in protein, is the basis of the production of certain regional cheese specialities: Maroilles, Bergues, Mimolette, Mont des Cats.

- La Simmental française : a mixed breed with a coat that varies from pale red to ginger. This breed is used for the production of AOC cheeses: Comté, Mont d'or, Morbier et bleu de Gex en Franche-Comté, and Laguiole in the Massif Central.

- La Salers : this breed has a distinctive red coat. Its milk is used for the production of regional AOC cheeses, notably Cantal and Salers but there are practically no producers who use this cow because it is not very productive. There are less than 10 producers who use this milk to fabric their cheese. An untiring climber, this breed does not suffer from vertigo, which means it can eat from the pasture of the mountains of Cantal. Concerning milk production; this cow can provide 2000 to 2400kg of a milk rich in fat, per lactation. The particularity of this race is that it refuses to be milked whilst in the presence of its calf. Today, the Salers is exploited to suckle its young to produce calves for slaughter. It is often crossbred with Charolais bulls. This gives bullocks which are heavy and perfect for meat. They are in demand for their rustic qualities: it can support large variation in temperature and coarse forage. It is fertile and is easy to farm. The calves grow up on the milk of their mothers, and the trait commences on the rich mountain summer pastures. This system allows the production of quality bullocks and a cheese made exclusively from the most fragranced milk.

- La Vosgienne : this breed has a speckled black and white coat. Its milk is the basis of the Munster cheese. It is a mixed race, which gives a large quantity and quality of milk (around 4400kg a year). It is a breed of exceptional rustic character: excellent walker, supports a change in temperature, accommodates to a difficult relief and eats coarse forage. It is perfectly adapted to the mountains. It has good fertility on a difficult.

-L'Abondance: this is a mixed breed, a good dairy cow, but also good for meat. The production of milk is around 5700kg per lactation per 302 days for the highest performing cows, and 5144kg on average in 2006. The milk is rich in fat and proteins, and there is a good balance between the two. The level of butyrous is on average between 37.0 and 37.4 and the protein  between 32.9 and 33.1. The ratio between the butyrous/ protein level is 1.13, which is ideal for making cheese. This milk is the basis for AOC cheeses; reblochon, abondance,  tome des Bauges and beaufort.These cows are favoured for their breeding qualities: their rustic quality, their ability to walk distances, their resistance to thermal altitudes, calving abilities, their long lifespan and ability to eat coarse forage. When the dairy farmers of Savoy found it difficult to sell their cheese, they crossbred this cow with bulls of a slaughter cow breed. These cows raise their calves in the stable, and then the trait begins in summer to make the cheese of the mountain summer pasture, which is the most famous and most expensive.

- The Tarine or Tarentaise: This breed is classed as a dairy cow. It is good at milk production and gives a milk which is rich in fat. It provides 4800kg for 292 lactations per year. Its milk is used to produce some AOC cheeses: Beaufort, tome des Bauges, reblochon or  abondance and IGP cheeses like  emmental de Savoie or  tomme de Savoie.As for meat, it gives an excellent yield that’s to the fineness of its bones. It is a rustic breed, with a long lifespan and is well adapted to the mountain pastures and transhumance; it is a good walker and resists the cold and the heat. It can be fed on coarse forage and is resistant to illnesses.

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Chapter summary
• Cows and cheese
• Ewes and cheese
• Goats and cheese
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