May cheese of the month focusing on transhumance

May 23, 2021 4 min read

May cheese of the month focusing on transhumance


Transhumance, originally a French term deriving from the Latin trans humus (across the ground), refers to a practice of moving herds from summer grazing to winter grazing that has been part of farming animals since prehistory.

Although it no longer exists in all the countries in which it used to be practiced, transhumance has been part of farming traditions, particularly dairy farming, since the earliest of times.  In some countries the practice has died out (England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales) but references to it can still be seen in words referring to Summer Pasture lands often, though not always, becoming place names.  In Wales the word Hafod refers to the summer pastures and the hut in which the farmer would live for the summer and for that reason, was chosen as the name of our Hafod Cheddar.  In the Alps, centuries of transhumance has affected the geography of the region, especially on the lower slopes that would have been more heavily forested were it not for winter grazing needs. While the practice is discontinued in some of the most touristic areas of mountainous Europe, seasonal migration is still practiced in areas from Austria & Switzerland to Italy, Spain and the Balkan countries.  While In the French & Swiss Alps the movement is  from lower valley pastures to higher land above the tree line, in other areas such as Italy, Spain or the Balkans the tranhumance may require an immense journey.  In the case of Italy, flocks of sheep were walked from the Appenine mountains to the plains of Puglia for winter along immense pathways called Tratturi which exist today.  Having been a part of farming in mountain areas for centuries, Transhumance has shaped the landscape of each country it was practiced in and it continues to do so today. 


We have chosen to highlight this practice in our choice of cheeses for our May Cheese of the Month Subscription.



Made in the chalets at altitude over an open fire in a copper cauldron, L’Etivaz is only made during the summer months of June to September when the snows have melted and the cows can journey up to the highest pastures progressing slowly up the mountain. The cheesemaking follows, occupying 3 chalets at various altitudes so that the pasture is not overgrazed.  Incredibly complex due to effect of the amazingly biodiverse alpine flora on the milk and enhanced by the natural smoke from the wood fire the cheese is made over,  L’Etivaz has flavours of hazelnuts, smoky bacon, and hoisin sauce.

 L’Etivaz being made in the traditional copper cauldron



A very different farming terrain to that of L’Etivaz, the slopes of the Ossau valley are steep sided and hold very little rain, so while the Ossau valley itself is verdant and lush, the high pasture is dry, hot and arid.  This sort of pasture is suited to sheep rather than cows and from the rich milk of the Rousse Noir sheep, a hard maturing sheeps cheese is made on the high slopes in order to last the winter.  Ossau Fermier is a more variable and wild version of the better known Ossau Iraty, which is made at co operative scale.  It has a smooth texture with flavours of hazelnuts, rich roast lamb and a stone fruit acidity with wild animal & grassy notes.



Once the snows melt, the goats of Caroline Jouguet graze the pastures of Rougnoux near Areches-Beaufort, at the chalet she shares with her parents, the Gaec Les Deux Laits.  While her parents Abondance & Tarine cows graze the more accessible pasture, there are parts of viable land that are much better suited to goats.  Caroline was given a couple of goats as a child and over the years built up her flock until she had 30 goats and wanted to expand for commercial production.  Plancherin d’Areches was a collaboration between herself and Herve (Mons) who had always had a dream of a goats milk Vacherin.  Her cheeses are a fascinating combination of soluble creaminess, a farmyard animal quality - enhanced by the washed rind, and the aromatic spruce flavours from the band on its rind.



Distinguished by its green label on the rind, Reblochon Fermier is also chalet made at around 1,400 metres.  The cheeses only stay a small amount of time in the chalets as the bulk of maturation is done by affineurs.  This is - in part - due to the fact the cheese is made twice a day, once after morning milking and once after evening milking – a hard working day.  Unlike the 3 chalet system of L’Etivaz, Reblochon tends to use 2 chalets but again with the aim of allowing the grass to regenerate.  It has a supple, creamy paste with gentle crème fraiche flavours and a slightly savoury mushroom hint from the rind.

 Reblochon cheeses just removed from their moulds



A complimentary cheese to this selection would also be a piece of HAFOD, as mentioned above, its name being a reference to the time when transhumance was practiced in Wales.  This ethos appealed to the Holdens interest in organic and sustainable farming respecting the environment.  Hafod is a rich buttery cheddar with a strawberry yoghurt acidity and structured, grassy flavours.

We also recommend the SALSICCIA DEL VASTESE which keeps with the transhumance theme.  The farm where it is made is on the Trattura, the road taken by Appenine shepherds taking their flocks down to the plains of Puglia for the winter.  This is a rich and spicy salami with a good kick of chilli.