The Chef and the Genomicist
Ryan Bethencourt
213

The Cheese Stands Alone?

what happens to farmers, fromagers and yours truly in a food system without animals


The cobblestones of Rue Saint-Remy in Liege are slippery under my sneakers.

They’re always wet — it’s Belgium.

Sliding my way through the alley to the steps of Crèmerie St-Remy, I stop just short to peer in the storefront window. A stack of Gouda wheels encumber the real view: a narrow space half-consumed by a towering glass case, with an impatient French-speaking cheesemonger named Philippe standing guard behind.

He sees me through the window, and squints his eyes.

I grin deviously, push the door open, and move inside.


Cheese has always been an obsession of mine, intensifying over the years. Cheese eating, to be more specific. I love it. Since 2010 I’ve been journaling most of what I’ve eaten, chomping my way across Europe and North America like a humanoid Pac Man hunting curds.

As much as I adore the tastes, it’s everything around the cheese that has charmed me.

Cheese brings people together, and drives them apart. It exposes amateurs + deputizes experts, creates artisans + crowns entrepreneurs. It anchors us in heritage and drives us toward the future.

Cheese has many stories, spinning infinitely more in its wake. The stories — told and untold — are innumerable, and spread across too many sources to keep track of. Cheese also represents an economy of surprising scale: it’s estimated that global cheese sales will cross $100 billion by 2019.

There’s a human element in this that is incalculable. In a world where all animal products are removed from our food systems, what happens to cheese farmers, like Francois in Loire and Thierry in Cevennes? The tourism and industry that support entire economies, like Roquefort?

Francois, goat farmer and owner of La Lioniere in Loire Valley; Gabe in the town of Roquefort; Thierry, goat farmer and maker of Pelardon in the Cevennes.

Miyoko and Ryan call this out in their posts, and I’m excited that they are taking a solutions-oriented approach to the question. I’m left wondering, though, if there is still a place for artisans and generational farmers in this world without animals in the food system.


I’ve tried Miyoko’s dairy-free cheese. I have to admit, it’s damn tasty. And while I’m a cheese maniac, I would be open to an animal-free food system if it means building a better world for the people operating within that system.

In the meantime, I’ll be munching away on dairy cheese and ready to explore anew when the nut milk opportunities arise.

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