It’s not very often that you see developments in the cheese world being reported by such a range of news sources as Forbes, Slate and Huffington Post. But the FDA’s recent decision to ban the use of wooden boards as part of the cheese aging process has caused a controversy much larger than many could have anticipated. With blogposts and articles popping up all over the internet, as well as an official statement from the American Cheese Society “strongly encouraging the FDA to revise its interpretation”, and a petition with over 2,300 signatures on The White House website, it is clear that a seemingly simple choice of shelving material matters a great deals to cheese makers and cheese lovers across the country.
The idea that wooden shelving could be so important to cheesemakers may never even have crossed the mind of the average American citizen. But the use of wooden shelving is crucial for many cheese making operations. In the FDA’s first released statement, the wooden boards were cited as a material that could not be “adequately cleanable” or “properly maintained”. But as Gordan Edgar writes on his site: “Most makers of traditional-style cheeses believe wood creates a beneficial environment for cheese.” Wooden boards have been used to age cheese for centuries- for a reason. Many cheesemaker’s products revolve around wooden shelving- recipes have been developed and cheese caves have literally been built around wooden shelves. To suddenly outlaw the time-honored tradition of aging on wooden shelves could have deleterious effects for cheese makers who have built their business around a particular group of cheeses. There is no predicting how exactly this would affect the production of American favorites such as Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Cabot Clothbound and Dunbarton Blue. Not to mention, many cheeses imported into the US from Europe are aged on wooden boards. In fact some cheeses, such as the beloved Comté, are required to be aged on wooden boards in order to be able to carry the name “Comté”. Since the regulation would apply to imported cheeses as well, this would be the end of a vast array of European cheeses in the States.
We are hopeful in the cheese community when we see the impassioned reaction of writers and cheese lovers all over the country. Just a few hours ago, the FDA released another statement, claiming they will “engage with the artisanal cheese-making community to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving”. Artisanal cheesemakers take great pride in the quality and safety of their products, and hopefully with the support of cheese consumers in the US, we will soon see a reversal of the FDA’s decision. We strongly encourage you to read up this issue, and we will keep you up to date on the latest happenings.