Preindustrial Europe

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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In Europe, dairying took hold on land that supported abundant pasturage but was less suited to the cultivation of wheat and other grains: wet Dutch lowlands, the heavy soils of western France and its high, rocky central massif, the cool, moist British Isles and Scandinavia, alpine valleys in Switzerland and Austria. With time, livestock were selected for the climate and needs of different regions, and diversified into hundreds of distinctive local breeds (the rugged Brown Swiss cow for cheese-making in the mountains, the diminutive Jersey and Guernsey for making butter in the Channel Islands). Summer milk was preserved in equally distinctive local cheeses. By medieval times, fame had come to French Roquefort and Brie, Swiss Appenzeller, and Italian Parmesan. In the Renaissance, the Low Countries were renowned for their butter and exported their productive Friesian cattle throughout Europe.