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.