Traditional foods at IP in Romania (4)

As argued in previous blogs on the IP in Romania, the category ‘traditional’ is socially constructed by social relations based on current perceptions of ‘tradition’. Foods celebrated and successfully marketed now as traditional, a positive category which offsets itself against placeless, mass-produced, standardised foods, can have a troubled social history. Some of these foods came into being as a result of social inequality, social injustice or exploitation. This part of the history usually disappears in current marketing efforts which show romanticized images of the countryside and small-scale farming.

One of the articles I gave the students to read is the recent article of the social history of Serpa Cheese in Portugal by West and Domingos in Journal of Agrarian Change (pp 120-143). The authors are critical on the efforts (and lack of historical understanding) of the local Slow Food presidium who promotes a particular (hard instead of soft) version of this Serpa Cheese using additional criteria to the existing geographical indication. The authors, however, show how this hard cheese is not related to current local soft cheese preferences but to past social inequality of landless labourers making cheese on the ‘latifundio’ (estates) who were subsequently partly paid in this hard cheese.

On the first Monday, the French students had a similar example of a cheese which emerged out of ‘fraud’ by farmers in an attempt rescue their resources for home consumption rather than to ‘pay’ the landowner. The cheese is called Reblochon, which comes from the words ‘re’ and ‘blocher’. The latter words means to milk and the practice of the farmers was to milk the cow in two stages, the first bit to ‘pay’ the landowner after which they returned to milk the rest for themselves.

The current images, of course, do not show a trace of this.