Let’s Talk About Wood {#SaveOurCheese Update}

by dccheese on June 13, 2014

in American Cheese Society,cheese links,Cheesemaking,Tweets + News

Thank goodness for Congress. How often do you hear that? Here’s the deal. If you follow us — or Forbes, the New York Times, or NPR — on social media, you probably heard about the seemingly out-of-the-blue FDA declaration late last week that wood was not an acceptable surface on which to age cheese. This was news to more than two-thirds of American artisan cheesemakers and, for that matter, some of the oldest cheesemaking traditions in Europe. You may have heard of Comté, Reblochon and a little Italian specialty known as Parmiggiano Reggiano? Not only have those cheeses been aged on wood for all of recorded history, but their name protection laws mean they cannot be Comté, Reblochon or Parmiggiano Reggiano without being aged on wood. So the FDA’s little “clarification” would have caused a trade war, too.

cheese aging on wood | cheeseandchampagne.com

Thanks to a flurry of outrage from the industry and cheese lovers alike, the FDA just days later issued a re-clarification. And then another one:

“To be clear, we have not and are not prohibiting or banning the long-standing practice of using wood shelving in artisanal cheese. ….

The FDA recognizes that this communication has prompted concerns in the artisanal cheesemaking community. The communication was not intended as an official policy statement, but was provided as background information on the use of wooden shelving for aging cheeses and as an analysis of related scientific publications. Further, we recognize that the language used in this communication may have appeared more definitive than it should have, in light of the agency’s actual practices on this issue.”

— FDA Constituent Update, 6/11/2014

Ok then. Oh, but note that they used the words “have not” and “are not,” not “will not.” In fact, they conclude their re-clarification with a challenge to the industry to prove that wood is safe.

Oh wait, we have studies on that.

Congressman Peter Welch #SaveOurCheese

Fortunately, Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont was quickly alerted to the situation and moved to build support for an amendment to a funding bill that would prohibit the FDA from enacting any such ban. (This is the quickest way for Congress to stop a rogue federal agency, by cutting off funding for the action in question.) The Welch letter was cosigned by 20 other members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, in defense of their states’ cheese industry.

  • If you are represented by one of these fine folks, send them a thank you note ASAP:  Representatives Peter Welch (VT), Reid Ribble (WI), Ron Kind (WI), Sean Duffy (WI), Peter DeFazio (OR), Paul Ryan (WI), Mark Pocan (WI), Chris Gibson (NY), Chellie Pingree (ME), Richard Hanna (NY), Joe Courtney (CT), Thomas Petri (WI), Bill Owens (NY), Tim Walberg (MI), Anne McLane Kuster (NH), Randy Weber (TX), Jared Huffman (CA), F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (WI), Mike Thompson (CA), Chris Collins (NY) and Rick Nolan (MN).
  • If your Representative is not on that list, call his or her office and ask him to support the Welch Amendment on Cheese Aging to H.R.4800 (Agriculture and FDA Appropriations) next week. (Call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 or visit house.gov to send an email.)
  • And for good measure, take a minute to sign the White House petition as well — while the FDA may have taken a step back, the cheese industry isn’t out of the woods just yet. It’s all well and good for the FDA to consider how to prevent contamination, but it is essential that they consider real science and industry impacts before promulgating any new regulations.

For additional background, download the American Cheese Society (ACS) Position Statement.

And for more on why wood matters, read this from cheesemaker Gianaclis Caldwell. Spoiler: wood allows the good bacteria that flavor the cheese to thrive.

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