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Cheese Manufacturing in the Twentieth Century

The Italian Experience in an International Context


Rita Maria Michela d'Errico, Claudio Besana and Renato Ghezzi

Since the end of the nineteenth century the dairy sectors of some industrialised European and American countries have experienced a phase of growth that took place at a different rate and in a different manner in each country, and which was made possible by the availability of raw materials and a more widespread knowledge of scientific and technological methods. The sector’s expansion was favoured by a revolution in transport networks, the beginning of globalisation in world markets and, decisively, by advances in packaging and refrigeration techniques. Italy in particular, despite its low availability of raw materials compared to other countries, rose quickly throughout the last century to become one of the largest international producers and exporters of cheese, especially of high value PDO cheeses. What factors were behind this achievement and which were the strengths and weaknesses of the sector during the twentieth century? The articles presented in this volume attempt to provide an answer to these questions from different points of view and using different interpretative approaches. The geographical range covered by these studies also reaches beyond Italy in order to look at other countries with relatively ancient dairy traditions. This comparative approach, although limited to just a few countries, is important in that it allows us to describe the evolution of a milk and dairy sector which has had such a large influence on the economic life of many regions in the Italian peninsula.

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Introduction (Claudio Besana / Rita d’Errico / Renato Ghezzi)


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Claudio BESANA, Rita D’ERRICO, Renato GHEZZI*

Globally, around 20 million tons of cheese (excluding others cow’s milk derivatives) are produced each year, making the cheese industry the most profitable segment of the entire dairy sector. Western Europe and North America account for a large part of this figure, with around 70% of global production (Fig. 1). Similarly, these same areas represent a high proportion of sales and per capita consumption of cheese. Experts predict that the sector will continue to grow as the demand for cheese increases in developing countries,1 whereas they see the consumption of milk and butter as being in decline, especially in the more developed economies, following a trend that began some decades ago with changes in tastes and eating habits.

The prime position occupied by these geographical areas cannot be attributed simply to their relative abundance of raw materials. While countries like France, Germany and the USA do produce large quantities of milk, it is also true that other countries, like Italy, have historically produced much less of this raw material than their competitors, but have nonetheless achieved notable results and are among the main producers and exporters of cheese, whereas countries like India and Brazil, despite possessing an abundance of raw materials, have not yet developed a significant dairy manufacturing industry.

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