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Mar 3, 2007 07:54 AM

Is cheesemaking "women's work?"

In reviewing the list of participants in the upcoming Artisan Cheese Festival in Petaluma I noticed that 18 of 23 "Cheesemakers and cheese experts" listed as presenters are women. This is consistent with my observations at boutique farmers' markets as well, where women seem to be doing all the presenting and sales.

Any theories on this? Do women have an affinity with cheese, or is artisan cheesemaking just a trendy hobby among bored Wine Country housewives?

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  1. i dont know, i would love to get into cheesemaking, but i am a 27 yr old male. that being said, here in NYC many of the cheese-hawkers at the green markets are women. but then again, i guess theres many men, too.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ben61820

      You can always intern somewhere making cheese, an easy way to learn. there are also courses you can take.

      Several years ago I worked at a local NY/NJ dairy farm and learned how to make artisinal cheese and baked rustic brick oven breads. Since then they have had dozens, even hundreds study there.

    2. I think that traditionally it was womens work but can't explain any reason for it now. One of my favorite descriptions is of how Ma (from little house in the big woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder) made cheese.

      1. Seems like it's a natural extension of women's "butter and egg money" enterprise. . . or lactation. (g)

        1 Reply
        1. re: Melanie Wong

          That's what I was thinking as well. And I think that comes from the fact that taking care of farmyard animals and their products were farm tasks that could be done in and around the farmhouse and that could be broken down into fairly small time increments that could be integrated into the workday with myriad other household tasks (as opposed to plowing the back 40).

          To continue the Laura Ingalls Wilder thread, in one of the columns she wrote for the Missouri Farm Wife she talks about a woman who kept accounts of the money her "side business" in poultry and eggs made. Her husband was so impressed that he turned the books for the whole farm over to her (Laura wryly remarking that the woman had taken on a new job: farm accountant, which was of course unsalaried), and the woman not only kept the books but found ways to make the rest of the farm more profitable. She also talks about one year when she and her husband had a contest to see which was more profitable: his cows or her chickens (which -- at least as she tells it -- ended up coming out even).

        2. It is indeed traditionally women's work, in pastoral societies men would work the herds and 'milk maids' would milk, churn and curdle the milk. Now in US women artisinal cheese makers focus on quality more than profit margin. At the risk of sounding dreadfully sexist, I would say that this separation of labor-- men sitting around relaxing (I mean,err, keeping an eye on the herd) while women run wildly muti-tasking around the barn-- has changed little!

          1 Reply
          1. re: lamoufette

            Among my Swiss dairy relatives, men would do the milking and cheese-making.

          2. I've noticed that among my "back to the land" friends, it's always the women who want animals -- the men seem to like the idea of log cabins and chopping firewood and digging wells, but domesticated animals appears to be a chick thing.

            Which would make cheesemaking a chick thing, since you aren't likely to think "gee I should do something with all this milk" when you aren't the one dealing with all the milk.

            1 Reply
            1. re: AnnaEA

              that sounds like my circle, exactly.

              Guys want to live off the grid so they can play with their solar panels. Women want to raise goats and spin. Guess who ends up making cheese?