CURD QUIPS: Juggling Jarlsberg, cheesy clicks and artisanal automation

 

Courtesy photo
The high quality of milk coming into this Norwegian facility is just one component of what makes Jarlsberg the top specialty cheese in the United States.

A revolution is underway.  Resistance is futile, your best path is to adapt and conform. In many ways, you already have. Consider that most of you are reading this on a tablet or “smart-phone.”

Yes, the fourth industrial revolution is underway. A revolution where rapid innovation in automation, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and other areas are quickly defining your everyday life.  In fact, according to The Wall Street Journal, a recent McKinsey study concluded that “49 percent of the time that workers spend on their jobs could be supplanted by automation.” Not future automation, but automation that’s already developed and “working” in the marketplace today.  Here’s the funny part – you likely just said in your mind ‘that won’t happen to me.’ Yeah, keep telling yourself that sunshine.

Did you use a credit card and pump your own gas, let a machine answer the telephone, check yourself out at a store, use a touchpad, mouse or other application to order a meal? Each of these functions used to be a human occupation.

Dairy is not exempt from this revolution as automation has been in the milking parlor for decades now. The benefits and pitfalls of this technology seldom debated. A philosophical sideshow pitted against increased production while the operating reliability of the technology goes up and costs plummet.  See how this works?

Then there’s cheese. Robots have long been used to complete routine repetitive tasks.  Personally, I think that the robots (rumored to be made by Ferrari) involved in Parmagiano Reggiano are some of the neatest to watch in operation.  What causes me to question this revolution is the future of cheese. Are we on track to default to large-scale automated production for cheese?

Jarlsberg is a good example of just such a cheese.  Nutty, almost sweet in taste, with a semi-soft texture and distinctive “eyes” or holes. The cheese is easy to enjoy on its own or melted.  Consider that soon over 15,000 dairies (in more than one country) will contribute milk to Tine (cooperatively owned), the producer of Jarlsberg.  Automation is key to scale their production.

Contrast that with the recent findings of the American Cheese Society State of the U.S. Artisan/Specialty Cheese Industry Survey of 900 artisan, farmstead and specialty cheesemakers operating in the U.S.  Among the findings:

 

  • 74 percent produced 50,000 pounds of cheese or less annually.
  • Jarlsberg’s production is tens of millions of pounds.
  • 66 percent made their cheese using milk from their own animals.
  • Jarlsberg is sourcing milk from thousands of dairies.
  • 67 percent of businesses reported gross revenues under $500,000.
  • Jarlsberg profits are over $300 million.
  • 92 percent of their production was sold domestically.
  • Jarlsberg production is largely sold outside Norway.

 

So where does this “illumination” find you?  Are you now hankering for a piece of Jarlsberg because you know what to expect or maybe that it’s easy to find? Admittedly, it can be less expensive too.  Perhaps you are feeling peckish for a savory nugget of resistance in the form of an artisan cheese.  A cheese produced a little closer to the source and farther from automation.

Quite literally, the choice is yours.  But consider this, your dollars are counted as votes. Your purchase will literally determine how quickly the revolution proceeds.  Not just in cheese but all aspects of your life.  Choose thoughtfully – are you a conformist or a rebel?