Thursday, February 12, 2009


CSFC: What Makes Artisan Cheese Artisanal?

What Makes Artisan Cheese Artisanal?
Art, Craft, and Science in American Artisan Cheesemaking

a presentation by Heather Paxson,
Professor of Anthropology, MIT

Thursday March 19, 4PM

University of California, Davis
228 Voorhies

In recent decades, handcrafted American cheeses, many made on farms with as few as a dozen cows or goats, have proliferated. As a rule, the new cheesemakers know rudimentary microbiology and are careful to avoid contaminating cheese rooms with barnyard bacteria. Yet they speak of their craft as an aesthetic experience, involving subjective judgment of taste, feel, personal vision. Based on interviews and participant-observation, this paper investigates how today’s neo- artisans, in their sanitized, laboratory-like cheese rooms and their moldy caves, acquire and engage tacit knowledge of the controlled rotting that is cheese-making. Offering an account of how lay practitioners construe and reconcile what counts as “art,” “craft,” and “science,” it revisits the Aristotelian techne/episteme divide and offers anthropological reflections on artisanship and expertise, both topics of longstanding interest in Science Technology Studies.

Heather Paxson is Associate Professor of Anthropology at MIT. The author of _Making Modern Mothers: Ethics and Family Planning in Urban Greece_. (University of California, 2004), she is interested in how people make sense of new bioscientific knowledge and changing economic realities in their everyday lives through such quotidian practices as sex and parenting, and food preparation and eating. She is currently undertaking an ethnographic exploration of a recent renaissance in artisan cheesemaking in the United States. She received the PhD in Anthropology from Stanford University in 1998.

This talk is sponsored by the Critical Studies in Food and Culture research cluster in the Davis Humanities Institute

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