Landscape, soil, cheese and me

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2 poems were written as if told by the 2 cheeses that were exhibited during the Jan van Eyck’s Open studios.

Largely confined to the Jan van Eyck Academie during their residency, both Robin and Nickie from The Soft Protest Digest adopted an introspective approach orbiting around questions of transition and self-sustenance in dire circumstances, such as pandemics and planetary crises.
Robin Bantigny has made and ripened cheeses from locally produced raw milk to serve daily for one month at the Café-Restaurant. He took pains to record his extensive cycling journeys around the region to dairy farmers, from whom he also collected soil samples to study their biota. These deliberative performative routines entangled him in the landscape’s rhythms of mutualism, growth, and decay.

A 1 month performance

Final planning of the full performance.

Written at first person as Robin
During the month of April in the region of Limburg, I entangled myself in a network of beings, mutualism and trophic relationships of decay to produce cheese. By doing so, my ambition was to depict the network in which our primates’ life are tied in when we make food. Moreover, realising our bonds with microscopic beings wether they come from the soil, the cheeses or our guts; was meant to help me experience what makes “us” broader than only-humans.


Landscape

Map showing where the farms are located compared to Robin’s home and the Academie, including the paths to reach every one of them.

The landscape was constituted by a space of ±50km2 area that I browsed for 30 days. This web of 4 farms brought me to meet 4 Dutch and Belgian farmers. This same landscape provides pastures for their domesticated animals (cows and goats) to graze plants that they digest and transform into the milk that I purchased. On my way to each one of the 4 farms, I described the landscape and recorded myself.[1] While cycling, I tried to describe what makes this landscape: the addition of living beings growing, hunting, socialising and working in the surroundings of the road network from home to farms (fields, buzards, sheds, trees, goose, ponds, crows, etc.)

Farm name Location Milk type Opening hours Contact Price
Hoeve de Koeberg Sint Geertruid, NL organic cow milk Open from 8 to 8.45 and 18.30 to 19.30 when milking for milk Claudia +31 655861399‬ 1€/L
Ferme du Temple Visé, BE cow milk 10-12.30 and 14-16.30, closed Tuesday and Sunday +32 43797184 1€/L
Zorgboerderij Ravensbosch Hulsberg, NL organic goat milk Better to come at 9am Maurice +31 651492391 2€/L
Melkgeitenbedrijf Noelmans-Peters Riemst, BE goat milk Shop open Wednesday and Saturday 10-17 José +32 495532390 1,5€/L

Gallery


Soil

3 different scales of observation were used to see as much of the soils’ biota as possible: macro, meso and microscopic.

During the last week of April, I extracted a small piece of soil from the pastures of Hoeve de Koeberg, René and Claudia’s organic farm — the farmers I got along with the most. Along the purchased milk, this soil sample was brought back home and “visited” with a microscope to look for living beings in it, reflecting on the decomposers’ primal activity to decay and recycle organic matter, the environmental changes threatening their mutualism[2], and its analogy with the way microbe societies make cheeses.

  • Soil analysis of milk providers: 1 hectare grassland next to the farm's main barn.
  1. Trowel sampling: 16 small 10cm deep samples of soil were mixed together. 10 and 20g were extracted and mixed with 100g demineralised water before observation.
  2. Pitfall trap: one 365mL jar filled with a bit of water was put in the center of the pasture as a trap for small crawling animals to fall in it.
  3. Baermann funnel: 50g of soil in gauze was attached to the border of a funnel. Demineralised water was poured in to extract microscopic animals from the soil.

Observations: Microscopic fungi and animals, macroscopic insects and worms crawling in samples.

Microscopic observations archives

Soil’s scales fresco

This fresco sits on a very old, worn out wall from the Jan van Eyck Academie’s garden. It was drawn with burnt wood from the garden to depict 3 sizes of the soil’s decomposers: macrofauna, mesofauna and microfauna.[3]


Cheese

The leftover whey from the 163L of milk used for cheese production was collected in a 100L container[4] and exhibited during the Open Studios 2021.

The cheeses were made 5 days a week with raw goat and/or cow milk from the 4 farms around Maastricht. They were curdled with rennet to make uncooked soft cheeses, that could be pressed too. Half of the cheeses were ripened with various ferments (G. candidum, P. camemberti, P. roqueforti) and the other half developed their own milks’ “wild” microbiota. They were aged for 1 week to 1.5 month in a cold moist room (the Mush-room[5]) without any energy input.

Cheese production archives

Gallery

Abbreviations used for cheeses’ names in the following pictures:

G C M o -#
Goat Cow Milk organic batch number

Me

All the cheeses I made were shared with the artists and staff from the Jan van Eyck Academie.


A short film

The first image of the video is an improvised hand drawn diagram trying to plan the different ties that will form during the 1 month performance.

In the start of September 2021, the collective was invited by the Food Art Film Festival 2021, run by the Food Lab of the Jan van Eyck Academie.

Gallery

  1. You can listen to excerpts from those recording in the short film Landscape, soil, cheese and me
  2. I explored this question thanks to an interview of Gerlinde de Deyn, from Wageningen University & Research.
  3. This classification method as well as the depicted beings were directly inspired from [Chapter II of The Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas].
  4. Mauser Open Head Drums found in the garden.
  5. Jop Mens built the Mush-room in the Jan van Eyck Academie, in perspective of growing mushrooms in it. Unfortunately, the Covid19 related lockdown made it impossible for him to farm mushrooms. The cool atmosphere and the sealed plastic room constituted the ideal conditions for Robin to ripen cheese on site.