Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Source of the cheese industry

In the nearby town of Vinay, the old-fashioned façade of this modest white building, which looks like a reconverted house, is studded with air-conditioning units. In the driveway, the entry of a huge garbage-collection truck suggests that the activities carried out inside this building must give rise to a lot of waste stuff.

The name panel carries a single term, Danisco, with no further explanations. Old-time residents of Vinay are nevertheless aware of the industrial operations carried out by some 32 employees inside this unobtrusive building. This biochemical production unit, whose present owner is a giant Danish-based corporation, might be considered as the source of the cheese industry throughout the world. I hasten to add that not a gram of actual cheese is manufactured here on the Danisco premises at Vinay... although the town of Saint-Marcellin, whose name is associated with a world-famous cheese made from cows' milk, lies just a few kilometers down the road.

A century ago, a Vinay man named Joseph Carlin [who would later become the mayor of this small but prosperous Dauphiné city, at the heart of the walnut region] invented a process for extracting the milk-curdling enzymes found in the stomachs of young calves. The final product, called rennet [présure in French], is the ingredient that causes milk to curdle: the primordial step in the making of cheese.

To produce this magic potion, the biochemists at Vinay import huge quantities of frozen calf stomachs from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Brazil. After being thawed out, they are ground into small fragments and pressed like grapes. The precious liquid obtained in this way from the tons of calf stomachs is finally subjected to a lengthy series of processes [whose exact nature remains a company secret] of filtering, purification, concentration and quality control. And Danisco's world-famous rennet products for cheese-making are finally exported from Vinay to more than a hundred countries [including China, Uganda, Yemen and Mauritius].

As indicated in the company banner [click to visit the cheese pages of their website], the Danisco recipe is not a total secret. They reveal, at least, its initial ingredient: First you add knowledge...

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