There’s a saying in DC, that no good news comes on a Friday afternoon in August. With Congress in recess and journalists on vacation, it’s the best time to announce an unpopular rulemaking or action to less rapid scrutiny. If cheesemaker Andy Hatch of Uplands Cheese was hoping for such an effect, he understimated the depth of affection felt for his highly-acclaimed Rush Creek Reserve. This morning, cheesemongers across the country woke to news that Hatch had decided not to produce the cheese this year, in the face of an uncertain regulatory climate fostered by the FDA.
The cheese world breathed a collective sigh of relief earlier this summer when the FDA backed off its seemingly out-of-the-blue declaration against the use of wooden boards in cheese aging. The FDA even took the unusual step of issuing an apology for the uproar and went out to California to sit down with cheesemakers face-to-face at the American Cheese Society Conference. While Deputy Commissioner Mike Taylor reportedly assured ACS members there that the agency would work cooperatively with cheesemakers before undertaking formal rule changes, it appears he was not convincing enough to quell cheesemakers’ fears.
We checked in with Hatch, who confirmed: “This isn’t in response to any problematic inspection or test results here – we’ve never had those types of problems – it’s only preemptive caution in the face of such confusing regulation.”
“We have no problem meeting today’s standards, but what will they be in a few weeks? They seem to change so quickly and without warning, I’d prefer to wait for things to settle down before taking a risk that could turn our business upside down.”
It has been rumored for some time that the FDA is considering changing — or simply repealing — its 60-day rule affecting raw milk cheeses. With a soft raw-milk cheese like Rush Creek Reserve, that was developed specifically to maintain the characteristics of a French Vacherin Mont d’Or while being aged long enough to satisfy the 60-day rule, the possibility of a rule change after beginning production for the next season is a significant financial risk.
We can only hope that the FDA will act soon to provide clarity and that Rush Creek’s absence will be short-lived. In the meantime, as we face the prospects of a holiday season without it, we put together a little montage…
click to view. created on Steller.
Updated 8/16 to reflect comments from Andy Hatch.