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Nanny State Madness
Public Enemy #1: Artisanal Cheese

The FDA is here to save you from the greatest threat you didn’t know you faced: flavorful cheese. The National Journal reports on a new federal crackdown on artisanal cheese aged on wooden boards. Because regulators fear it could spread dangerous bacteria, they are making this method of maturing cheese illegal—and banning imports of board-aged foreign cheese. More:

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 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.

In our weaker moments we can sympathize with those who want to crush the new upper-class foodie culture, but hand-wringing over the bacterial content of artisanal cheese is a textbook example of overzealous food regulation. The artisanal cheese market provides good jobs, and if there’s been a persistent trend of cheese-related deaths in France, it’s certainly been well covered-up. As Slate points out, this crackdown would extend to a cheese as common as Parmigiano Reggiano, and studies of cheese boards that are regularly cleaned show only bacteria that are both harmless and flavor-enhancing.

And how exactly will the FDA protect us from the cheese producers threatening our health and safety? Perhaps they can take a page from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s book and start stocking up on submachine guns. Nothing says “we’re serious about taking away your cheese” like a muzzle in the face.

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  • LivingRock

    “In our weaker moments we can sympathize with those who want to crush the new upper-class foodie culture…” TAI

    An easy group target indeed, and I appreciate some snark every once in a while. But the “foodie culture” is very DIY and represents an important piece of the service economy that TAI touts for good reason. Nevermind the “organic” and anti-GMO nonsense that is congruent with the culture, nobody’s perfect.

  • Dan

    First they came for the cheese boards, but I did not speak up because I was lactose intolerant…..

  • Andrew Allison

    Hmmmm, you don’t suppose this could have more to do with banning the importation of foreign cheese for the benefit of domestic tasteless cheese manufacturers than the danger from Listeria monocytogenes?

  • JollyGreenChemist

    “Blessed are the cheesemakers.”

    • f1b0nacc1

      More of a metaphor, don’t you think? I suspect that he was referring to all manufacturers of dairy products

  • LarryD

    I remember reading that research on cutting boards showed that wooden cutting boards had *less* bacteria than plastic or glass. Why was still needing research.

    I think the people responsible for this policy need to be examined by five shrinks, and if, after a thorough two year psychiatric exam, the board can *unanimously* certify them not only sane but free of neuroses, then reinstated. Otherwise, retired on a mental disability.

    And future FDA efforts should start with the very important people in D.C., the Congressional cafeterias, all the vending machines and restaurants catering to the bureaucrats and staff.

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