Adventures beyond time

Adventures beyond time

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Adirondack Crescent?

What is the Adirondack Crescent? It is not a widely recognized geographic feature, and is in fact a formulation we only recently coined to use with our cheese project.

Planning for the project, we wanted to contrast what is happening in the world of cheese now with the similarly momentous and not altogether congruent changes that occurred in the past. In both past and present, the scale of change was large, and we were seeking some way to narrow our focus. How were we to identify a bite-sized morsel that could serve to exemplify the whole?

One way to keep its size manageable would be to restrict it to New York State. We had some historical information that made this strategy seem promising, but it still seemed to need something more.

We were helped fortuitously and indirectly by New York Times reporter Danny Hakim. In a 2006 article describing his visit to the New York State Cheese Museum, he referred to a map from one hundred years earlier showing a “C-shape” cluster of cheese factories surrounding the Adirondack Mountains. Maybe, we thought, this C-shaped area could be our morsel. The idea was appealing; it would provide the narrowing of scope we desired, and offer other advantages as well. We were long-ago natives of Northern New York, we still had a few connections there, and one of us even had a family connection—a grandmother who once worked in one of the factories shown on the map. Searching for information from local sources would dovetail with annual visits to friends and family, and should the final product be a book, publicizing it might fit nicely with marketing our other books that celebrate aspects of the region.

Of course “C-shaped” does not convey much of a mental image, and after much thought, we finally came up with “Crescent.” Looking at the original map, the shape of the clustered factories does indeed resemble a crescent moon. (We put together the map accompanying this post to illustrate the idea of the Crescent, and it does not attempt to show the locations of all 618 cheese factories there in 2002. Nor does it show the other 522 cheese factories in the State, the majority of which were clustered in the southwestern quadrant.)

Specifically, what we have described as the Adirondack Crescent includes portions of the upper Hudson Valley on the southeast, the Mohawk River Valley on the south, the broad plain at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, its northward extension that narrows as it runs eastward along the valley of the St. Lawrence, and a tip that extends into the valley at the northwest end of Lake Champlain. Its 618 factories in 1902 produced a total of 67,275,922 pounds of cheese. The same region in 2002 included a handful of large factories—some owned by multinational corporations or conglomerates best known for their tobacco products—turning out millions of pounds of commodity cheeses, mid-sized factories producing quality cheeses by methods not unlike those employed in 1902, and a steadily growing number of independent cheese-makers who are determined to recapture much of what had been lost in the trends toward mechanization, industrialization, and supplying global markets.

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