Film review – Raw: the resistance of farmers

19 September 2021

Participants at Cheese had the privilege of attending the very first screening of “Raw: the resistance of farmers” – which beautifully highlights the stories of French cheese producers. 

Through their 50-minute movie directors Thibaut Fagonde and Jérôme Loisy, who were both present at the event and took part in a post-screening dialog with the audience, document the traditional practices of cheesemakers who enhance the qualities of their cheese through the use of raw milk; a representation of their local biodiversity.  

“Raw: the Resistance of farmers”, comes full circle, starting with a flash back to a panel discussion from Cheese 2019 between French cheese producers, during which François Bourgeon, an affineur and “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” deplores the disappearance of raw milk cheese in France. We are then taken straight to the producers’ farms to learn about how they are upholding local, traditional cheesemaking. 

It is therefore fitting that the movie was finalized just in time to be presented at the 2021 edition of Cheese, the world’s largest event dedicated to raw milk cheese and dairy products. To top off the experience, we had the chance to taste the deliciously creamy Camembert, a Slow Food Presidium featured in the movie, as well as raw milk Comté.  

Let’s make Camembert great again! Photo: Davide Greco

The raw sounds of cheese

The movie instantly plunges us into the scenery through a sea of sounds – the sound of cows munching on grass, of a cheesemaker brushing a wheel of cheese, of cows being milked straight into a steel bucket, of sheep bells in the foggy mountains, of milk being poured into cannisters, and of artisans hand-ladling the curdled milk into their molds. 

Through the dialogues with the various cheese producers you cannot but feel immense respect for them, the work they put in to produce extremely high-quality products and their passion for their work. We learn about Patrick Mercier’s fight against industrial Camembert, the pride Charlotte Salat takes in producing the same Salers cheese as her grandfather did, and Jean-Bernard Maitia’s determination to maintain and protect pastures.  

We first meet Patrick Mercier, one of the only producers following the original recipe of Camembert with raw milk. We’re told that by working with researchers from the University of Caen, he has been able to observe the direct links between the biodiversity in the grass fed to the cows, and the biodiversity of healthy bacteria present in the cheese, giving it its unique taste. “One could almost believe that microorganisms are at the service of our pleasure.”

The post-screening tasting. Photo: Davide Greco

Salers cows

Charlotte Sanat introduces us to her Salers cows in the Cantal region, a breed of cow that produces less-fatty milk, but in smaller quantities. The amount of manual work that goes into caring for the cows is impressive, but directors Jérôme and Thibaut tell us after the screening that Charlotte doesn’t like it when people wish her “good luck!” – this is her passion, and she is doing well. Too often, farmers are portrayed as suffering, and Jérôme and Thibaut are determined to show a different reality.  

In the French Basque country, Jean-Bernard Maitia explains that his work is not only about creating high-quality cheese, but also about protecting the landscape. It’s about preserving the incredible biodiversity that pastures hold. “We are actors in this biodiversity” he tells us. But there’s a problem: too few young farmers are willing to pursue this type of production despite the high demand for quality cheese.  

The true price of food

The movie reminds us that the question of generational renewal is tied to the price of food. Raw milk cheeses are not luxury products, Patrick Mercier says. “A Camembert costs less than a pack of cigarettes, after all.” Projects that support young farmers to acquire land, and buyers willing to pay the true price of cheese, help counterbalance the effects of a system that has kept the price of milk at 30 cents a litre for 30 years. The fair remuneration of producers is a fight Slow Food has been engaged in for years. This is done both by educating consumers on the true price of food, and by advocating for food policies to appropriately reward farmers who preserve biodiversity.  

The movie leaves us with some reasons to be hopeful. Patrick Mercier tells us the demand for high-quality food products is high, and there are many young farmers who want to learn the techniques and uphold traditional cheesemaking. He is on a mission to re-create the true Camembert, and as we bite into a piece of his own cheese served at the end of the movie, there’s no doubt we want to join him on this mission.  

by Madeleine Coste,