The Government Is Cracking Down on Artisanal Cheese

And U.S. cheese makers are not happy.

National Journal
Marina Koren
June 10, 2014, 1:20 a.m.

The gov­ern­ment wants to kill a cen­tur­ies-old pro­cess that makes ar­tis­an­al cheese what it is. 

The Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­cerned about the pub­lic health safety of us­ing wooden boards to age or ripen cheese. The agency re­cently cited sev­er­al New York state cheese makers for us­ing the boards in a re­cent in­spec­tion, say­ing the “un­san­it­ary” prac­tice was a vi­ol­a­tion of FDA reg­u­la­tions for safe food man­u­fac­tur­ing. But New York has al­lowed the prac­tice — which is com­mon in ar­tis­an­al cheese pro­duc­tion — for years, and asked the FDA for an­swers.

Jeanne Car­penter, a Wis­con­sin cheese-in­dustry ad­voc­ate, pos­ted the FDA’s re­sponse on her blog, Cheese Un­der­ground:

Wooden shelves or boards can­not be ad­equately cleaned and san­it­ized. The por­ous struc­ture of wood en­ables it to ab­sorb and re­tain bac­teria, there­fore bac­teria gen­er­ally col­on­ize not only the sur­face but also the in­side lay­ers of wood. The shelves or boards used for aging make dir­ect con­tact with fin­ished products; hence they could be a po­ten­tial source of patho­gen­ic mi­croor­gan­isms in the fin­ished products.

Cheese in­dustry ex­perts took the re­sponse to mean that the FDA was ban­ning the use of wooden boards for U.S. cheese­makers. That’s not the case, ac­cord­ing to the FDA. “The FDA does not have a new policy ban­ning the use of wooden shelves in cheese-mak­ing,” a spokes­wo­man said in a state­ment on Tues­day.

But the FDA is still keep­ing an eye on the prac­tice. “His­tor­ic­ally, the FDA has ex­pressed con­cern about wheth­er wood meets this re­quire­ment and has noted these con­cerns in in­spec­tion­al find­ings,” she said. “The FDA will en­gage with the ar­tis­an­al cheese-mak­ing com­munity to de­term­ine wheth­er cer­tain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving.”

Aging cheese on wooden sur­faces is an age-old tra­di­tion. Cheeses are placed on wooden boards or shelves in warm, hu­mid rooms, where they rest for sev­er­al months to ripen for in­creased fla­vor. In France, more than 300,000 tons of cheese are aged on wooden boards each year. In the United States, some of the yum­mi­est ar­tis­an cheeses have spent time on a wooden board, Car­penter writes, in­clud­ing last year’s Amer­ic­an Cheese So­ci­ety Best in Show win­ner, a win­nimere from Ver­mont.

The FDA says this ban is a cla­ri­fic­a­tion of ex­ist­ing policy, Car­penter ex­plains, found with­in the Food Safety Mod­ern­iz­a­tion Act, a land­mark 2011 bill that shif­ted the fo­cus from re­spond­ing to food con­tam­in­a­tion to pre­vent­ing it al­to­geth­er. It also gave the agency more power to con­duct in­spec­tions of cheese-mak­ing fa­cil­it­ies, something it had pre­vi­ously left up to the states.

The FDA is most wor­ried about Lis­teria mono­cyt­o­genes, a dan­ger­ous food-borne patho­gen that causes the in­fec­tion lis­teri­os­is, which af­fects the cent­ral nervous sys­tem. Cheese makers say that if prop­er clean­ing tech­niques are fol­lowed, the risk of con­tam­in­at­ing cheese with such bac­teria is low. And while wood can’t be cleaned as well and thor­oughly as oth­er sur­faces, like plastic or stain­less steel, cheese ex­perts say the fla­vor wooden boards pro­duce can’t be du­plic­ated by something else.

“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,” Wis­con­sin cheese maker Chris Roelli tells Car­penter.

This story has been up­dated to in­clude a state­ment from the FDA.

What We're Following See More »
FRENCH IS A LAWYER, VETERAN
Kristol Recruiting National Review’s David French for Third-Party Run
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Two Republicans intimately familiar with Bill Kristol’s efforts to recruit an independent presidential candidate to challenge Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have told Bloomberg Politics that the person Kristol has in mind is David French -- whose name the editor of the Weekly Standard floated in the current issue of the magazine.

French is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. According to the website of National Review, where French is a staff writer, he is a constitutional lawyer, a recipient of the Bronze Star, and an author of several books who lives in Columbia, Tenn., with his wife Nancy and three children."

Source:
CALIFORNIA VOTES IN A WEEK
Jerry Brown Backs Clinton
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

California Gov. Jerry Brown endorsed Hillary Clinton today, calling her "the only path forward to win the presidency and stop the dangerous candidacy of Donald Trump." While praising Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign, Brown said "Clinton’s lead is insurmountable and Democrats have shown – by millions of votes – that they want her as their nominee. ... This is no time for Democrats to keep fighting each other. The general election has already begun."

Source:
GLASS CEILING STILL HARD TO CRACK
Clinton Says Voters Still Hung Up on Gender
13 hours ago
THE LATEST

In a New York Magazine profile, Hillary Clinton said she still encounters misogyny at her own events: “‘I really admire you, I really like you, I just don’t know if I can vote for a woman to be president.’ I mean, they come to my events and then they say that to me.”

Source:
CHANGE WE CAN’T BELIEVE IN
Trump Vows Not to Change
13 hours ago
THE LATEST
Source:
BACKING OUT ON BERNIE
Trump Won’t Debate Sanders After All
4 days ago
THE LATEST

Trump, in a statement: “Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. ... I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”

×