FYI.

This story is over 5 years old.

Transhumance Is a Cheesy Way of Life

Sometimes there are fancy terms in cheese-speak that sound real cool but people have no idea what they actually mean. In the meantime, we shall focus our desires on learning about this trippy sounding term: Transhumance.
Photo by Janelle Jones

Sometimes there are fancy terms in cheese-speak that sound real cool and get thrown around a bunch, but then people have absolutely no idea what they actually mean. Take affineur for example—do you know what that means? Well don't worry, 'cause one day soon enough, one of these articles will be all about that strange French term that means a person who ages cheese. Whoops. Spoiler alert.

In the meantime, we shall focus our desires on learning about this trippy sounding term: Transhumance. This term is all about the act of a shepherd moving their flock to get to better grub during different times of the year. In the dairy animal-rearing world, there are two (so polarizing, I know) ways in which these beasts are raised: one involves being cramped in a barn where they are fed silage (a whole other article to come!) and rarely get to move around or graze, and the other allows the animals to nosh freely outside and walk around on pasture. Sure, they get the cozy warmth of a barn during the colder months, but they also get to spend a great deal of their lives inhaling fresh air while tasting the wild delicacies of their land.

In the spring and early summer months, these heifers (yes, usually cows) start their days on the low-lying lands where everything is all fresh and green from the thawed snow and seasonal changes. A classic visual for you is the mountainous region known as the Alps. Think of The Sound of Music. Although you might not remember what that film was about (I could be projecting, but there was something in it about Nazis and incest, right?), you probably remember how green those hills so alive with music were? Well, that's what it's like in the valleys in the first few months after winter when these bovine guys—actually, girls—get to graze. As the months click by and the grasses begin to brown, it's time to move the beasts up to the greener world that awaits. (There's something there right? Gotta move higher to get the green?) Anyway, the dedicated caregivers take the journey up the mountains with their brood. There are little milking chalets along the hillside, where the beasts deposit their super fresh liquid gold (known as milk) on a daily basis. The cheesemakers only produce one or two wheels a day in little huts when the milk is super flavorful and fatty from all the killer grasses.

Every few weeks, the whole gang makes another trip up the mountain to get better, fresher greenage as the mountain slowly yellows from the base upwards. At the beginning of fall, the shepherds make their way down with their herd, where there is (usually) a big party waiting to welcome them home. It's a pretty tranquil way of life. And I'm not jealous at all because it's not like they can jump the subway and get killer Thai food in Queens, NY. I guess it's all relative.

But now you know what transhumance means.