Modern Decline

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

The modern decline of cheesemaking has its roots in that same golden age. Cheese and butter factories were born in the United States, a country with no cheesemaking tradition, just 70 years after the Revolution. In 1851, an upstate New York dairy farmer named Jesse Williams agreed to make cheese for neighboring farms, and by the end of the Civil War there were hundreds of such “associated” dairies, whose economic advantages brought them success throughout the industrialized world. In the 1860s and ’70s, pharmacies and then pharmaceutical companies began mass-producing rennet. At the turn of the century scientists in Denmark, the United States, and France brought more standardization in the form of pure microbial cultures for curdling and ripening cheese, which had once been accomplished by the local, complex flora of each cheesemaker’s dairy.