Do you love Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and other wood-aged American cheeses? Well, your heart’s about to be crushed.

This week, the FDA announced it will not permit American cheesemakers to age cheese on wooden boards, reports the blog Cheese Underground. Why? Not relying on or adhering to any official scientific evidence, the FDA argues that “wooden shelves or boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized.”

The FDA’s fateful decision came after the NY State Department of Agriculture asked the FDA for clarification as to whether wooden surfaces were acceptable for the aging of cheese, reports Forbes. The response:

[pullquote]”The use of wooden shelves, rough or otherwise, for cheese ripening does not conform to [Current Good Manufacturing Practices], which require that ‘all plant equipment and utensils shall be so designed and of such material and workmanship as to be adequately cleanable, and shall be properly maintained.'”[/pullquote]

[Photo: Liz Barclay]

This government decision will very likely hurt the small American businesses that produce artisan cheeses, instead of large companies, like Kraft, who mass manufacture their cheeses. The importation of artisan cheeses—including Comté, Beaufort, and Reblochon cheeses from France, and Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy—will also likely be halted because of this decree.

What the FDA fails to realize—or couldn’t give a shit about—is that the wood-aging process is largely critical in producing uniquely-flavored cheeses, like washed-rind and blue cheeses. Cheese expert Gordon Edgar tells Forbes, “Wood creates a beneficial environment for cheese. After all, what is cheese but a great achievement of the microbe community?”

After evaluating scientific articles on the subject, The Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research concluded that the wood aging of cheeses does not endanger the health of the consumer. From the report:

“Considering the beneficial effects of wood boars on cheese ripening and rind formation, the use of wood boards does not seem to present any danger of contamination by pathogenic bacteria as long as a thorough cleaning procedure is followed.”

The FDA’s decree is a hard hit to the American artisan cheese-making industry. In L.V. Anderson’s commentary in Slate, Wisconsin artisan cheesemaker Chris Roelli laments,

“The very pillar that we built our niche business on is the ability to age our cheese on wood planks, an art that has been practiced in Europe for thousands of years. Not allowing American cheesemakers to use this practice puts them at a global disadvantage because the flavor produced by aging on wood can not be duplicated.”

All we know is, we get very anxious when someone tells us we soon won’t be seeing Comté, Clothbound Cheddar, and Parmigiano Reggiano at our local cheese shop.

[via Forbes, SlateCheese Underground]

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