Skip to comments.The Aged Cheese Stink
Posted on 06/22/2014 4:50:53 PM PDT by Kaslin
Im no cheese expert. But I know what I like. And I prefer interesting cheese to the mostly mass-produced product I see on supermarket shelves.
Why? A failure of capitalism?
Blame the FDA for todays mediocrity in cheese. The milk product industry has been heavily regulated, subsidized, and managed since FDRs time, at least. And its mostly gotten worse. Government, like cheese, ages to perfection.
By which I mean, when it comes to government, perfectly foolish.
The most famous government cheese problem (the government buying and storing huge quantities of the stuff to raise consumer prices and therefore stabilize milk production) is only the tip of a very huge hunk of the stinky stuff. Enforced pasteurization is at the heart of Americas milk and cheese industry (unlike in many places in Europe), and the federal governments ongoing war on bacteria (which our bodies require, to at least some extent) has led to todays perhaps-safe but mostly bland and uninteresting cheeses.
And then there were the FDAs rulings that rocked the cheese industry a few weeks ago:
The FDA recently conducted a handful of routine inspections in New York and cited cheesemakers for using wooden planks to age their products. News of these citations quickly spread through the cheesemaking industry and many business owners are concerned about their livelihood.
The FDA swore up and down that cheesemakers must not use wooden boards in cheese production:
The use of wooden shelves, rough or otherwise, for cheese ripening does not conform to cGMP requirements, which require that all plant equipment and utensils shall be so designed and of such material and workmanship as to be adequately cleanable, and shall be properly maintained. 21 CFR 110.40(a). 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.
Problem? Yes, according to the Cheese Notes blog:
The wood-aging adds flavors that cheesemakers say cant be replicated by any other means. Chris Roelli is a fourth generation cheesemaker in Shullsburg Wisconsin and says his family has been wood aging cheese for nearly a hundred years. He says the practice is safe as long as cheesemakers properly clean their wooden planks. The FDA however, argues that bacteria and pathogens can grow in the fibers of the wood and cause health problems.
Well, since cheese is itself a bacteriological process, one has to wonder: could the FDAs rationale border on a certain amount of dunderheaded obliviousness?
But like most stories about government, the tale quickly spun out of control. From get-go in the stink, the FDA insisted it had long clung to this rule. Nothing new; move along. The fact that cheesemakers had been breaking it and getting away with it for too long, didnt immediately faze the feds.
But the artisanal cheese production community went up in arms. These arent the biggest producers, but a more specialized batch of cheesemakers, smaller outfits with closer ties to traditional cheese production. Their outcry went viral. All of a sudden, the FDA began blowing a different blend of smoke. The agency denied having a new policy, and, furthermore, denied a new enforcement push against wooden boards all contrary to its earlier rumblings.
Not too surprisingly, the FDAs denials sported a Clintonian ring, suggesting only a temporary backing off:
In the interest of public health, the FDAs current regulations state that utensils and other surfaces that contact food must be adequately cleanable and properly maintained. Historically, the FDA has expressed concern about whether wood meets this requirement and has noted these concerns in inspectional findings. FDA is always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese.
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.
The FDA is merely being cautious. It is still heavily invested in what it sees as a potential health hazard or, at least, a threat to the agencys own self-conceived rationale. Ancient practice doesnt seem safe enough, and the cheese whizzes at the FDA are intent on having the last word.
Yet, as common sense might suggest, it is apparent that theres no real dirty cheese problem in the U.S.
If anything, our cheese is too clean. And not tasty enough.
Forbes drew a lesson from the affair:
When government officials make pronouncements that dont seem grounded in law or policy, and threaten your livelihood with an enforcement action, you must organize and fight back. While specialized industries may think that nobody cares, the fight over aged cheese proves that peoples voices can be heard. . . .
But the lesson is larger. Government bureaucracies can ruin a business, without help of Congress, just on their own. These regulatory agencies can make a plausible case for their destructive behavior, but that plausibility usually goes no further than that. The case for their regulations bureaucrat-made law are usually as shaky as a cheese soufflé.
There is a reason why businesses form organizations to lobby Congress: to have some say in the regulations that affect not merely their bottom lines, but their very existence. When we hear about special interests, its worth remembering that much of what special interests do or at least start out to do is self-defense.
The big dairy companies have their lobbies, and they are probably fine with cracking down on wooden boards. I havent checked it (hey: this is a project for your kids), but I wouldnt be surprised if the conglomerates that make up Big Cheese hadnt long ago given up wooden boards in their cheese aging process. They probably make do with plastic or stainless steel or some cheap, easy-to-clean (or easy-to-dispose-of) mesh.
I wouldnt be shocked if, at some point, it was a Big Cheese manufacturer who whispered into the ear of an FDA bureaucrat somewhere that wooden boards are dangerous, you know, and got this whole thing started. Traditionally, regulations (like subsidies) tend to favor the big at the expense of the little businesses. Theres a reason for that. And it happens over and over, especially in agriculture.
The modern regulatory state looks a lot like the mercantilist states that Adam Smith undermined. Smith fought for the idea of low government involvement, and against government-enforced monopolies, regulations, etc.
For now, though, enough consumers having developed a taste for good cheese have sided with artisan producers to place a check on an unreasonable FDA crackdown. But the fight is clearly not over.
Apparently, the price of cheese is eternal vigilance.
It’s way past time for some of these goons to start vanishing, never to be heard from again.
This is like the plastic vs. wooden cutting board debate. For may years, we were all lead to believe that the plastic ones were the more sanitary. Now, we know that wooden board are more sanitary.
If you ever get to Italy, France or Germany, local cheeses are unbelievably good. I once had a locally produced Gorgonzola in a corner of southern France within two miles of the Italian border. It was beyond any description but illegal to bring home.
I have safely aged my Velveeta on wood boards for years,
some of them for decades...
They let anyone cross the border and they keep out cheese.
Is it just me or is cheese not as good since they started putting it in the seal a meal type plastic on the store shelves?
I’ve got a wooden cutting board that I’ve been using for years, and I almost never wash it, and certainly never “sanitize” it. Nobody who has eaten my cooking has ever developed a bacterial illness. People have things called immune systems that tend to deal rather harshly with stray bacteria that they come into contact with. I’m reminded of the joke about the travelling salesman who had sex with the farmer’s daughter. “I hear you slept with my daughter last night!” cried the farmer, accosting the salesman. “What are you gonna call the baby?” The salesman holds up a condom and says, “If he gets out of this, I’ll call him Houdini!”
I love a chunk of Velveeta on my cheese burger but you and I are likely to be roundly castigated by the cheese snobs.
I don’t mind Velveeta for certain things. It makes a good queso-salsa dip for tortilla chips, etc.
You might give Provel a try, btw. I don’t know if you’ll find it outside the St. Louis area too easily, but it’s pretty tasty, too. Provel is sort of an Italian Velveeta. It’s processed cheese food made from white cheddar, provolone, and swiss. Very tangy. A lot of the pizza joints down there use it in place of mozzarella.
You can have all your Blue Cheese you want, but I love my Camembert or Brie Cheese ;)
Bagged milk, irradiated and sitting on the shelf for 3 months tastes better than grocery store top of the line creamery milk does "fresh".
Or maybe it's the cows. Thing is, the flavor just doesn't compare.
I love velveeta. It makes great mac & cheese. Or just cheese and crackers.
But..of course, I love all cheese. I recently splurged and bought Babybel. Deeelish.
It would seem that local, private production of cheese is going to be the key to making sure you can get the good stuff. I don’t think that FDA has authority to regulate it. And even if they do, good luck enforcing it.
Same thing with other local foods. I’m a beekeeper and there simply is no comparison between what comes out of my hives and the imported crap you get at the supermarket.
It all has to be pasteurized.
Some dope in Massachusetts claimed to have become sick from unpasteurized cider.
The FDA put our local (northern NH) cider mill and many others out of business as compliance cost to much.
Later the MA clown admitted it wasn't the cider.
You think the FDA would change back?
I have a neighbor who is a beekeeper and keeps me supplied with honey.
What you say is true. AND most of my seasonal allergies have disappeared.
(He also has chickens that are corn fed. I will find it hard to buy store bought eggs ever again.)
Bragg’s is unpasteurized. I buy it at the grocery store.
A couple of tablespoons daily do wonders for cholesterol and blood sugar.
But I doubt I’ll ever get over making a face when I drink it. LOL
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