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Cheese as a symbol: rhetoric and culture by Kilien Stengel


Every single one of us has their very own “cheese culture” resulting from a French, Russian, Swedish, American or any other upbringing. So much so that it is true to say that the definition that we give, on an individual level, to maturing, and, in fine, to cheese, even to “good” cheese, is dictated by our upbringing. As such, we could deduce that cheese is a social matter, heir to socially acceptable practices which integrates members of the same social group in this part of the meal. It does this in line with certain so-called organoleptic quality criteria, as subjective as they may be, in accordance with certain eating habits, such as “fromage blanc” in Alsace or Lyon, which is salted and has herbs added, or the traditional accompaniments such as cumin for munster, or almond, fig, hazelnut and raisin biscuit for certain cheese platters, and according to certain tasting rituals and methods. Who could possibly deny that cheese is capable of playing such a social role? But is this really the role of cheese? Can cheese be reduced to the simple social purpose of tasting with friends? Is tasting not in the process of becoming a symbol of social conformism, slowly and discretely dissipating the diversity of cheese?

Our expert, Kilien Stengel

Kilien Stengel spent his working career at Michelin-starred Relais & Châteaux and was a hotel/restaurant manager, quality auditor for the Ministry of Tourism, and gastronomy teacher in the National Education system. In 2008, he began working at the University of Tours, within the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food, to provide support for “The Gastronomic Meal of the French” to be added to the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. He also organizes the yearly Rencontres Rabelais there. He has a PhD in Information and Communication Sciences, is an associate researcher within the “Sensorial, Sensitive, and Symbolic” teams (University of Burgundy), and PRIM (University of Tours). He is also the author of a number of works on gastronomy and diet.

Note: this conference is given in French.

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