Cheese and Globalization

A couple of years ago, at the dinner after one of the courses I teach with Nassim Taleb, I asked the multicultural group of delegates a question that I’d been thinking about and suspected I knew the answer to. Or rather I suspected I knew what certain people’s answers would be, the correct answer I still don’t know. The question was “How many different types of cheese are there in the world?”

Now when I just said that I suspected I knew what certain people would say, those certain people are Americans. Around the table were folk from all over Europe, Australia, one from Iceland, and some Americans. So I asked the question of one of the Americans. He did not disappoint, and he gave the answer that I expected, but feared. His answer was “Seven or eight.”

Had I asked for the names of the seven or eight I would probably have got the answer “Cheez Wiz, cheese slices,…and Monterey Jack.” If you are from Europe you will have a better idea of the correct answer, which I suspect is in the thousands.

Now I love America and Americans so much that I married one. But the uniformity of the tastes of this large, rich country, or any, large, rich country, has the potential to damage smaller producers of niche products. Combine uniform tastes with easy global transport and hypermarkets within reach of everyone and you’ve got a recipe for evolution towards blandness. We are told that French wines are suffering from globalization. But then we also hear about record years for French wines. So what is happening?

Timescales are very important here, and we have the competing effects of globalization on the one hand and education on the other, together with the natural timescale for businesses to grow or collapse. Which will win?

It would be a shame if cheese or wine were to suffer, since I fully intend my retirement years to be spent sitting by a pool, somewhere warm, catching up on my reading, while working my way through the wines and cheeses of the world!

Finally, a question for you, how many varieties of apple are there? (Not that I care much for fruit or veg, where I come from chips count as one of my five portions per day!)