Salers protected designation of origin cheese, France. The diversity and paradox of local knowledge in geographical indications

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Abstract

Our case study of Salers cheese production in south-central France highlights how place-specific knowledge grounds the various networks shaping the rise of geographical indications (GI) in food production. In 1961, Salers cheese producers created a "Protected Designation of Origin" (PDO). To preserve the distinctive character of their product, they opted to require use of the gerle, a traditional wooden vat, and an on-farm cheese making process. The gerle came recently under scrutiny from French governmental hygiene regulation enforcement, and the subsequent public controversy jeopardized the entire supply chain and destabilized Salers cheese-making methods. Prevailing in their efforts to protect Salers, producers established the gerle as mandatory and have since set up a governance board to ensure PDO brand integrity. Our analysis suggests that the diversity of technical choices and associated set of knowledge in Salers cheese production has paradoxically been both its strength and weakness. Local agricultural know-how forges links among participants in Salers networks, connecting cheese producers and consumers, to cattle, microbes, landscapes, wooden tools, and cheeses. Yet, diversity of local expertise creates a tension among producers who must collaborate to achieve unified standards within a PDO while resisting homogeneity. Such results contribute to discussing on PDO governance: an arena to share, compare, and unite local knowledge is critical for GI and thus for sustainable agricultural systems.

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Bérard, L., Casabianca, F., Montel, M. C., Agabriel, C., & Bouche, R. (2016). Salers protected designation of origin cheese, France. The diversity and paradox of local knowledge in geographical indications. Culture and History Digital Journal, 5(1). https://doi.org/10.3989/chdj.2016.006

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