Government likes being the big cheese. If the Food and Drug Administration has its way, there will be a lot less competition for the title.
The future of many cheese operations in Wisconsin and elsewhere and the unique tastes of popular cheeses like aged cheddar and Parmesan are hanging in the balance after a recent decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that alters how cheeses are aged, industry experts say.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an executive decree banning the centuries old practice of aging cheese on wooden boards.
Consumers who eat any kind of aged cheese should prepare for a potentially catastrophic disruption in the market for artisan, non-processed cheese.
Corporate cheese makers like Leprino and Kraft will be able to weather this regulatory storm — they don’t make cheese, they manufacture cheese, and as such they do not follow the centuries old artisan techniques. But for small businesses and artisan cheese makers, wood boards are in fact essential to the making of cheese.
Monica Metz, branch chief of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition’s Dairy and Egg Branch, once employed by corporate cheesemaker Leprino, nixed wooden-shelf cheese ripening.
Corporate cheese manufacturers operate under different rules from small-batch, artisinal craftsmen.
Take it from the perspective of Chris Roelli, a Wisconsin cheesemaker cited by McNeal: “The very pillar that we built our niche business on is the ability to age our cheese on wood planks, an art that has been practiced in Europe for thousands of years.”
To make matters worse, the FDA is acting without legal authority.
Obama doesn’t believe in legal authority. He believes in his authority.
In an email to industry professionals, Rob Ralyea, Senior Extension Associate in the Department of Food Science and the Pilot Plant Manager at Cornell University in New York, says: “According to the FDA this is merely proper enforcement of the policy that was already in place. While the FDA has had jurisdiction in all food plants, it deferred cheese inspections almost exclusively to the states. This has all obviously changed under FSMA.”
Ah, FSMA. For those of you not in the know, the Food Safety Modernization Act is the most sweeping reform of American food safety laws in generations. It was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011.
While most cheesemakers have, perhaps, begrudgingly accepted most of what has been coming down the FSMA pike, including the requirement of HACCP plans and increased federal regulations and inspections, no one expected this giant regulation behemoth to virtually put a stop to innovation in the American artisanal cheese movement.
This is part of the FDA’s ongoing War on Cheese.
The Food and Drug Administration has long had an adversarial relationship with traditional cheesemakers. First, it cracked down on raw milk cheese aged less than 60 days, even though such cheeses—like Brie de Meaux and Reblochon—have been safely devoured in Europe for centuries. Then it restricted imports of Mimolette, a hard orange French cheese, because of its high concentration of microscopic bugs called cheese mites—never mind that cheese mites are what give Mimolette its characteristic flavor and texture.
Instead of restricting the import of European cheese, maybe we can restrict the import of European bureaucracy instead.
— Fresh New England (@freshnewengland) June 10, 2014
— Matt Spiegler (@mattspiegler) June 10, 2014
— Christine Berardi (@BerardiCM) June 9, 2014
— Melissa Pasanen (@TasteofVermont) June 9, 2014