Colonial Cheese

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Queijo colonial

Queijo Colonial, a raw milk cheese from the southern states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná, is traditionally prepared each morning. When this cheese is produced in the artisanal way at the small-scale, the whole process is completed by women, from the raising of the milking animals to the making of the cheese to its sale. Cow’s milk is used, usually from mixed, rustic breeds raised on pasture with the addition of corn or tapioca, sweet potato leaves and forage given in the barn, giving a specific taste to the milk and cheese. Queijo colonial is one of the most emblematic of a group of products that, in southern Brazil, are called “Colonial products,” products traditionally made on farms by farmers in the south of Italian or German heritage, mainly produced for home consumption.  

The cows are usually milked twice a day and dmilk from the evening milking is refrigerated and added to the morning milk for the cheese production. The milk is sieved and then placed in a large pot and heated to a temperature of 30°C before adding salt and rennet. Today, commercial rennet is used. Once the rennet has been mixed in for about 40 minutes, the milk will be coagulated and the curds are broken to aid in the draining of the whey from the solid mass, before the cheese is put into forms. The cheese is left to drain until the end of the morning, and only then is it brought to the press, where it will remain until the next day, until removed so that the press may be used for the next day’s cheese. Usually a round manual press is used, which means that only one cheese can be produced each day. The dimensions of the cheese are variable due the varying daily milk production. Once removed from the press, the cheese is left to age for 5-12 days, the period in which it is moved to a shop for sale.  

Cheese not sold within 12 days is destined for further aging, following traditional conservation techniques. There are a few ways in which Colonial cheese is preserved. The most common is being immersed in wine for 2-3 days, or the rind can be covered with lard, annatto and pepper. Regarding the wine immersion technique, from the information gathered from the oldest producers, it is a technique that was born of the habit of dipping the pulpy residue of black grapes from the winemaking period. For the other conservation technique, annatto and pepper are mixed into lard, which is applied by hand to the cheese, which takes on a reddish color typical of annatto. The cheeses are then hung in netting until the end of the again process, for up to one year. Cheeses younger than 3 months are generally eaten on their own or with polenta or bread. Older cheeses are used for cooking or grating.  

Production of queijo colonial was a typical women’s activity, and until the 1990s, each farm produced a cheese for family consumption using excess milk. On average, one cheese was produced a day, which could also be informally sold directly to customers or among friends and with a sense of trust in the short supply chain. Although income from this activity was not particularly high, it was still important for the women, who were then able to purchase supplies for their children and foods not produced on the farm. Today farmers are unfortunately abandoning this type of small-scale, raw milk cheese production. Instead, rural family agribusinesses have begun to produce and sell the cheese to the farmers of the area.  

However for the sale to be legal, these agribusinesses must follow sanitary regulations, which do not take into account artisanal characteristics, and so distort the final product. Therefore, one of the most important cultural heritages of the farmers is being lost: the know-how connected to this type of cheesemaking. One of the new laws imposed is the pasteurization of milk for cheese production, making it more similar to industrially produced cheeses. Queijo Colonial is also disappearing due to a rural exodus of young people and the fact that mothers no longer hand down this know-how to their daughters. In the state of Santa Catarina alone, between 1995 and 2006 the number of producers of Queijo Colonial dropped from 59,6741 to 5838, which gives a good idea of how dramatic the decline has been.

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