My time spent in the Jura Mountains was anything short of spectacular. Before this trip, my expectations were solely formed based upon the information that I had been presented through class readings. Being apart of a community that celebrated the creation of cheese from the early stages of production to marketing was something grand. For the most part, I understood that what you see isn’t always what you get. I discovered that comté was a way of life and it took more than just cheese to make this happen. The idea and concept of terroir was elaborated and defined through each stage of interaction that I encountered with all the actors of Comte. First of all, I can say that this region was located in the countryside. The region was made up of several small villages that kept intact its unique and traditional cottage style houses. The atmosphere was clean, green and quiet. Something most of us would expect in the countryside. On the lines of expectations, each representative of comté had a shared identity.
Comte was not merely concerned with making the cheese “good” or keeping a secret recipe that created a unique and distinct taste in every bite of cheese. I found this to be very bothering considering the fact that I grew up eating Kraft cheese. I remember my childhood being filled with the moments during wintertime where my mother would prepare lightly toasted white bread, by which a warm yellow string of cheese would fall down from my mouth as I attempted to take my first bite. My bite of Comte cheese earlier in the semester didn’t quite par to this image. Of course, it was during early months of winter when my professor walked into class with cutlets of French fry shaped comté cheese. In the back of my mind, I knew that the only reason I hated cheese was because I have lactose intolerant.
Most people hate cheese for other reasons such as the smell, color, or perhaps bad experiences. My first sampling of cheese in Jura was different from my first sampling in the classroom. In the classroom, I hated cheese because of my intolerance to some of the lactose, as mentioned before, but when sampling the comté in Jura, Claire, the taste educator who guided most of our comté experience, really taught us how to use our senses to describe taste. Indeed, there is no such thing as “good taste” and there are many reasons why people tend to have different likings for food. Claire told us that taste normally begins in a mothers womb, therefore it is inherited and learned and built upon. We can appreciate food such as cheese much better when we learn how to taste. What’s good to one person can be oddly different to another person. When we learn what good or bad food is, it’s usually described through use of language and comparisons.
At comté, I learned how language was constructed through the daily activities with my class mates. Everything we tasted from the cheese to the color water to the snails had a different taste for each taster (or in this case my classmates). We learned to describe what we were tasting by comparing it to other things that we have tasted at a previous time in life. This was the most influential skill that we learned early on as we were able to think like a group and a community, though everyone had a different taste. In addition, the use of all of our senses became equally important in identifying food, not just cheese, but other vegetables, fruits and objects not common to us. For example, Claire had all the students feel an object in 10 different solid colored cloth pouches. This was a daunting experience for most students as some things felt really unpleasant to touch and created a fear, meaning we became disconnected from our food. When we are disconnected from our food we are no longer apart of a community.
My favorite part of this experience was meeting Taz, a farmer in Jura who really cared about his farm and animals. When our class arrived to the farm for the first time, this farm had a pleasant and nice feel. The grass was green, the cows were happy, and the cool breeze that passed by did not smell like the cow manure at 6am that I smell at home in Kentucky. What stood out more to me with this experience I encountered at Taz’s dairy farm was his passion for what he did every morning before the crack of dawn until sunset. He never once mentioned it as a job or a business, but rather something that made him happy. He allowed us to touch the cows and milk them; my fondest moment of being close to the nature of cows is associated with the moment I was in awe of the cows lining up to be milked, and one cow splattered its solid waste on 4 of the girls in my class, including me. One with nature is what I thought to myself. It was disgusting, but none of us were upset because we knew it was normal and Taz experienced this everyday. These were the cow’s that provided the milk for the cheese that is made by the cheese-maker or otherwise known as the fromagerie. In this early production of cheese making, I found out at Comté 4th stomach of a baby cow is used to make the natural fermentation for the acidic element needed for cheese to be cured and formed once heated. This natural process was intriguing and caused me to have mixed feelings. I support natural food, but I also didn’t understand why a baby cow was killed for the process. I tried to overlook that fact but it became harder as I looked at all the baby cow’s in the dairy barn, I suppose it’s ethical since baby cows are eventually killed and eaten as veal.
I cannot cover every thing that I observed and learned in my five days in the Jura mountains, but I can say for the most part, my expectations were beyond surpassed. From now on, my relationship to food will always bring me back to my experience in Jura. I did not have a deeply moving life changing experience, but it gave me a better appreciation of different tastes, deepened by vocabulary for expressing test, and gave me experience