The artisanal cheese world in the U.S. is in danger of crumbling because of regulatory uncertainty from the Food and Drug Administration.
At least one cheese maker, Uplands Cheese, has already taken action. The Wisconsin company recently stopped making its Rush Creek Reserve due to concerns about FDA regulation, as reported by the Chicago Reader.
“What’s changed over the last year or two is that [the FDA] has taken [its] concern with soft, raw milk cheese and increased the pressure on producers making those cheeses,” Uplands cheese maker Andy Hatch told the Reader. The FDA isn’t transparent or predictable in the way it’s addressing their concerns, he added.
“[This] creates uncertainty, and that’s what I’m reacting against,” Hatch said. “It’s a simple precautionary measure and a preemptive reaction to a regulatory climate that just feels opaque and unpredictable.”
Rush Creek is a cheese loosely based on a French and Swiss cheese known as Vacheron Mont d’Or, which isn’t sold in the U.S. because it is aged for only 25 to 30 days. For decades the FDA has required cheesemakers to age raw milk cheeses such as Rush Creek for more than 60 days.
The FDA is currently reviewing this rule, with many academics speculating that the duration could be increased to 90 or 120 aging days within the next year, noted cheese expert Jeanne Carpenter on her blog. The FDA’s goal is to avoid unsafe cheese, but there’s little clarity about which direction it will go.
This is the kind of unpredictability that prompted Hatch to stop making his cheese – and it isn’t the first time the FDA is confusing cheese makers.
In the spring, a policy statement from the FDA declaring that cheese makers will no longer be able to age their cheese on wooden boards created havoc in the cheese community. The FDA quickly backed away, saying it actually didn’t issue the new policy, according to Forbes.
“The death of Rush Creek Reserve should act as the canary in the coal mine for all American raw milk artisan cheeses, because just as our great American artisan cheese movement is in serious full swing, the FDA has basically declared a war on raw milk cheese,” wrote Carpenter.
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