The debate on the valorisation of traditional and artisanal food has been receiving increased attention recently. While there is growing consumer demand for natural, artisanal and unique foods, simultaneously, there is a significant discussion about the criteria used to assess these products which, given their singularity, can compromise their features if they are evaluated according to the same criteria which regulate industrial food production This research was conducted taking into account this context. For the development of this study, Serrano Cheese was taken as the object of research; this is a handmade traditional cheese made from raw milk and produced in Campos de Cima da Serra, a region located in the northeast area of Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state of Brazil. Empirical data were obtained from ethnographic research which prioritised information especially from producers and consumers but also from technicians and cheese sellers. The data analysis provided elements to discuss the relationship between producers’ lifestyles and cheese production; and to capture the practices, meanings and logics associated with the production and with the equipment, the tools and the raw milk employed in the production of the cheese. Regarding the consumption of Serrano Cheese, the study discusses the risk perceptions of local inhabitants in relation to the product, and the channels through which the cheeses are sold, usually based on the reputation of the producers and on close relationships. Changes in progress in the region, to varying degrees, have been resulting in alterations in the production methods, which can even affect the maintenance of those characteristics which make Serrano Cheese unique. By evidencing the significance of the knowledge legitimation employed in traditional food production, this study aims to contribute towards the enhancement and protection of this sort of production, which in turn is associated not only with the income maintenance but also with the safeguarding of the production methods and the lifestyle of producer families.
Keywords: Traditional knowledge. Raw milk cheese. Risk perceptions. Intangible cultural heritage. Peasantry. Consumption.