The Great Cheese Divide

Cheese is one of those products in which there is a huge gap in quality when comparing supermarket cheeses against both artisinal and Traditional European cheeses. The primary reason for this great divide is quite easy to determine: The Food and Drug Administration, who get to define what is cheese for Americans.

What are these Federal Regulations?It comes down to the following – Cheese marketed interstate or imported is required to comply with federal standards of identity. These standards for cheese and cheese products define the food by specifying the following:

  • The ingredients used (including the kind and quality of optional ingredients)
  • The composition (the maximum moisture content and the minimum percentage of fat in the cheese solids or in the total mass of cheese)
  • The requirements concerning pasteurization of the milk or an alternate minimum ripening period
  • The production procedures
  • Any special requirements unique to a variety of class of cheese

Let’s focus on the pasteurization aspect here…Although their hearts are/were in the right place, the FDA requires that all cheese aged less than 60 days must be made with pasteurized milk (as opposed “raw” milk). There are many folks who state that there is a distinct taste difference between cheese made with raw milk and cheese made with pasteurized milk. There are also conspiracy theorists who make the claim that the pasteurization rule, passed with good intentions in the 1940′s, is now merely in place to prevent the European Cheese industry from making inroads into the American marketplace with their fresh cheeses.

Personally, I think there’s something to the conspiracy theory. Aged European cheeses have been making there mark on the marketplace as consumers look for tastes beyond the American Cheddars and Colbys made by the larger dairy corporations. Not only that, but pasteurization in of itself is not a cure-all…it does not sterilize milk free of bacteria. And Raw-milk cheeses aged more than 60 days are not risk-free either.

Of course I base my stance on this on nothing except my own personal bias against all things Kraft.

This is also not to state that pasteurized milk cheese is better than raw milk cheese. The quality of ANY cheese is based on the skill of the cheesemaker, as well as the quality of milk. My point here is to say that the market should decide which cheeses get popular. To have certain members of the cheese industry hide behind a cheese stipulation that prevents new varieties being introduced (either by local artisans or cheese importers) strikes me as a bit unfair.

It’s safe to say that the cheeses you find at your typical Safeway or Kroger are not the best of the best. The huge chunks of cheddar, the big blocks of Jack, the…*shudder*…pre-shredded fat-free taco cheese are simply the result of money-grabbing by the larger food corporations. Great cheese (heck, even simply good cheese) should be looked for elsewhere.

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