Savoie is a difficult region owing to its relief (high altitudes, steep slopes), access (high valleys) and harsh climate.
While today these conditions are essential for the tourist industry associated with winter sports, for a long time they hampered the development of the agro-pastoral economy of the Savoie region.
The high Savoie valleys are difficult to farm; a factor that helped coin the term “mountain farming”. The solution for tackling these difficulties was to concentrate on cattle rearing rather than crops. The milk produced would then be made into cheese. This is how cheese production developed, and still remains closely linked to milk production from cattle rearing.
Since the Middle Ages, monks and village communities have cleared the alpine pasture areas to graze herds of milking cows. The cheese produced at that time was known as “vachelin”.
It was during the mid-19th century that the name “Beaufort” started to appear to refer to this cheese. Barely a century later its existence was threatened by the crisis mountain farming experienced in the 1960s. Up until that time, the population had earned a good living from dairy and cheese production, as Beaufort was sold in cities such as Lyon, Turin and even Paris. The profits contributed to buying food that could not be produced locally. As of the 1960s mountain farming, and therefore Beaufort production, began to be threatened by an ever increasing number of the workforce leaving to find work in the towns and cities. The Savoie region suffered a massive rural exodus, which resulted in a fall in Beaufort production to less than 500 tons a year.
The farmers reacted to this crisis and decided to create a new organisation to revive the production of Beaufort.
“Beaufort must be of sufficiently high quality to command a high price, so as to allow the industry to bear the extra costs of high mountain farming”.
The new organisation was a co-operative system for manufacturing, maturing and marketing. This move was prompted by the Union des Producteurs de Beaufort (Union of Beaufort Producers). A co-operative policy was set up in order to:
- achieve a higher standard of quality by creating a technical department, working closely with various research bodies,
- obtain "AOC” (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) status for the cheese, which it achieved in 1968,
- carry out essential work to ease the hard work involved in milk production: i.e. the development of mechanical milking in the mountain pastures, partial mechanisation of haymaking.
This co-operative policy was linked to the national mountain policy to enable farmers to subsist. The production of Beaufort reached 4,150 tons in 2005, or around 103,000 “wheels” of cheese.
Another use for mountain pastures was discovered in the 1960s with the development of winter sports resorts. So farming and tourism co-exist on the pastures, depending on the seasons, and this allows some farmers to generate extra income.
Visit the site of the "Syndicat de Défense du Fromage Beaufort” (Beaufort Cheese Protection Syndicate):