Artisans and Crafts


Pre-artisanal cheese

Unless you were there, it’s hard to imagine how different the United States was back in, say, the 1950s.

No, I don’t mean the differences that computers, smartphones, and the Internet have made since then, though they are considerable. And I don’t mean the civil rights movement and affirmation of rights and respect for diversity, though those have really made a difference.

But our everyday lives have been transformed. We are privileged to live in artisanal times, in the era of craft products.

We have seen the proliferation of choices in our everyday lives. Or should I say proliferation of cheeses? Because that’s what I mean. We have many more choices when it comes to our everyday lives, and cheese is a prime example.

In the 1950s, for example, at the local grocery store we had our choice of cheeses — as long as they were Kraft and a few other national brands. Nowadays we still have Kraft, but we now also have craft. The American Cheese Society website lists dozens of varieties readily available, varieties ranging from fresh (mascarpone, ricotta, chevre, etc.) to soft-ripened (brie, camembert), semi-soft (blue, Colby, fontina, Havarti), hard (gouda, cheddar, Swiss, gruyere), blue (Roquefort, gorgonzola), natural rind (tomme de savoie, Stilton), and many  others.

To go with the artisanal or craft cheese, there is craft beer. In the 1950s we had a choice of a few national and regional brands, but they were pretty much alike. The most exotic was Coors, prized not for its flavor but its scarcity — it was sold only in Colorado. Travelers returning home from Colorado would bring precious bottles of Coors with them.

Nowadays the artisanal or craft beers are everywhere and endless. The Craft Beer website displays more than 50 styles, ranging from American amber lager to American black ale, American brett, American imperial porter, American style wheat wine ale, through Baltic Belgian, Berlin, English, French, German, Irish, Scottish, Vienna styles — and others.

What else? Well, remember coffee in mid-20th-century America? The thin brackish brew that would sit in an aluminum pot all day? That was before Starbucks, and Peets, and the countless other craft coffees now available.

Bread, ice cream, grains, chips, chocolate, olive oil, spices. Even tomatoes, though for fragile heirlooms you may need to visit the local farmers’ market. (That too wasn’t around in the 1950s.)

What’s up? Perhaps the cultivated tastes of the old days have permeated mass culture, thanks to television and the Internet. Mass is out, individual is in — even in matters like cars and clothing.

Maybe this post has more to do with culture than with language. There’s no official definition of artisanal or craft. Those terms don’t guide the change, they just label it. But whatever the reason, ours is a much more personally gratifying everyday world than the one we used to find ourselves in.



Return to Top