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Reaching new heights!

A passion for animal sciences and a love of mountain life make Bruno Martin an interesting creature. “I was determined to combine both ‘sides’ of my life!” This clearly drawn path led him to a career as an engineer in dairy production in mountain areas. A steady climb since has allowed him to associate livestock farming practices with cheese quality.

Bruno Martin, research engineer at the Herbivore Joint Research Unit (INRA-VetAgro sup), INRA Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
By Julie Cheriguene, translated by Emma Morton Saliou
Updated on 07/04/2018
Published on 06/07/2018

After obtaining his degree in agronomic engineering in Montpellier, France (1), Bruno Martin took to the Alps to begin a thesis: “All I knew was that my research would focus on quality issues in cheesemaking.” Little did he know, the project would go on to form the basis of work that spanned his career: “Back then, people thought you could make any kind of cheese with the technical methods available, regardless of how the milk was produced. The notion of ‘terroir’, the environment in which the milk was made, wasn't part of the equation. We worked with farmers that made Reblochon cheese, and they witnessed first-hand the impact of what the animals were fed, and of locally-specific conditions, on the quality of their cheese.” Bruno Martin then quantified and validated this local expertise in experimental conditions.  

Grassland-infused cheeses...Mmmm

Slope 1: livestock practices

After his PhD, Mr Martin became a research and development engineer at the Alpes du Nord Scientific Interest Group (GIS), where he continued his research on Abondance and Beaufort cheese, studying the effects of botanical diversity in pastures and hay on how cheeses taste. “The botanical composition of fodder is tied to the weather conditions of a region, re-confirming the important role of a “terroir”. In the case of Abondance cheese, we established that the cheese had a different taste depending on which side of a mountain the alpine animals grazed.” In 1998, a competition-based, research engineer position was created at the Herbivore Joint Research Unit at INRA Clermont-Ferrand (2), giving Bruno the opportunity to go from the Alps to the Massif Central highland region. “The structure of the GIS made it an excellent study site, but INRA offered the means to go further.” With support from the “Herbipôle” experimental unit (3) and the joint research unit on cheese (4), he took a closer look at variance factors in milk and cheese components which were of nutritional or organoleptic interest. “One thing we studied was the role of dairy fats (which vary in accordance with the animal’s diet) on the development of a cheese’s organoleptic properties. Conversely, we were also able to predict the fat content of milk based on farming conditions.”
As an engineer, he has always viewed his position as an interface between professions: INRA researchers, local cheese industries, and local R&D structures as well. Such joint ventures have allowed Bruno to make notable achievements in the authentication of milk production conditions by analysing a product’s chemical components.

Modulating product quality

Uphill research

“When I began working on these questions in the 2000s, only AOP-certified (5) cheese producers were interested. It was a lonely place to be for 10 years!” His perseverance eventually paid: his research on the notion of “terroir” yielded important results, particularly in the defence of the AOP label and cheese quality, which is essential to ensuring that higher retail prices are based on tangible reality. “The link to ‘terroir’ is not based only on historical and cultural factors; biotechnical aspects must also be considered. In terms of analytical authentication, we’re working on developing new techniques based on milk testing to certify certain elements of specifications in AOP cheese production.” From a more general perspective, the removal of milk quotas has made assessments of milk production systems very important for all mountain-area milk producers, who face increased production and milking costs. “Differentiation between products and production methods is a way to generate the added value needed to compensate these costs.”
Bruno Martin took over the management of his team in 2007. After two mandates, he returned to the field in 2015, quickly strapping on his engineering crampons in a quest for new projects. “Today’s metagenomic tools open new doors for us.” With microbiologists from the joint research unit on cheese and the Massif Central AOP cheese unit, he is delving into the question of what “farm microbiota” contain: “microbial flows develop on a farm and affect the composition of raw milk through to a ripened cheese. The goal is to identify farming practices which guarantee the sanitary and organoleptic qualities of cheeses made with unpasteurised milk.” This original approach to integrated health management via appropriate farming practices clears new paths, and confirms that Bruno Martin is always ready to climb new peaks.

Bruno Martin, research engineer at the Herbivore Joint Research Unit (INRA-VetAgro sup) in Marcenat, INRA Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. © INRA, MAITRE Christophe
Bruno Martin, research engineer at the Herbivore Joint Research Unit (INRA-VetAgro sup) in Marcenat, INRA Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes © INRA, MAITRE Christophe

(1) École nationale supérieure agronomique, Montpellier, France.
(2) Herbivore Joint Research Unit (INRA-VetAgro Sup), INRA Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.
(3) The Herbipôle unit is a joint venture between INRA’s ruminant experimental facilities in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, spread across three sites: Laqueuille and Theix in the Puy-de-Dôme region and Marcenat in the Cantal region.
(4) The Joint Research Unit on Cheese (INRA – Université de Clermont-Ferrand), INRA Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.
(5) Appellation d’origine protégée

cv in brief

  • 51 years old, married, two children
  • 1998 to present: Research engineer at the Herbivore Joint Research Unit (INRA-VetAgro Sup), INRA-Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.
  • 2012: Accreditation to supervise research, Université Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand
  • 1994-1998: Research and Development Engineer, Alpes du Nord Scientific Interest Group (GIS)
  • 1993: PhD, École nationale supérieure agronomique de Montpellier
  • 1990: Engineering degree in animal production and Master’s degree (DEA) in applied physiology (animal production) from the Ecole nationale supérieure agronomique, Montpellier, France
  • Hobbies: skiing and other mountain sports

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