By Harold McGee
During the 10 or 12 centuries after Rome’s strong rule, the art of cheesemaking progressed in the feudal estates and monasteries, which worked steadily at settling in forested areas or mountain meadows and clearing the land for grazing. These widely dispersed communities developed their cheesemaking techniques independently to suit their local landscape, climate, materials, and markets. Small, perishable soft cheeses, often made from the milk of a few household animals, were consumed locally and quickly and could only be sent to nearby towns. Large hard cheeses required the milk of many animals and were often made by cooperatives (the Gruyère fruiteries began around 1200); they kept indefinitely and could be transported to market from distant regions. The result was a remarkable diversity of traditional cheeses, which number from 20 to 50 in most countries and several hundred in France alone, thanks to its size and range of climates.