FDA rules that cheeses may not be aged on wooden boards.

Legislating cheese isn't normal.  ...but on FDA it is.

Legislating cheese isn’t normal. …but on FDA it is.  (image credit, heavily altered:  Chris Buecheler)

 

The FDA has begun moving against artisan cheese makers who employ wooden surfaces for aging their cheeses. Monica Metz, Branch Chief of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition said in an official statement, “The use of wooden shelves, rough or otherwise, for cheese ripening does not conform to cGMP [Current Good Manufacturing Practices] requirements.” This is not just a push for sanitation, but an attack on an entire industry’s method of creating their product. As cheese blogger Jeanne Carpenter reports:

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.

Many of the most awarded and well-respected American artisan cheeses are currently aged on wooden boards. American Cheese Society triple Best in Show winner Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese in Wisconsin is cured on wooden boards. Likewise for award-winners Cabot Clothbound in Vermont, current U.S. Champion cheese Marieke Gouda, and 2013 Best in Show Runner-Up Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar.

This sudden change in policy comes at the direct expense of the smallest cheese makers. Left conspicuously unaffected are giants such as Kraft.

The use of wooden boards to age cheese is a practice that is thousands of years old. It is a cultural practice — a technique passed on through the heritage of an industry.  A serious question arises from these points:  How did the FDA come to view its mission as including prohibiting cultural practices?

Carpenter points to the FSMA — The Food Safety Modernization Act, which has increased the scope of the federal regulatory agency’s power.

The FDA’s record with that expanded power seems so far to be quite horrendous — if not unexpected.  At this point, we should expect large federal bureaucracies to rule in favor of large multi-state corporations — at the direct expense of smaller businesses more tied to particular cultural practices.

Whether taxis, beer — and now cheese — the story is the same.  Big protects big to the detriment of all.