Don’t mess with the cheese. That seems to be the thought behind consumer reaction to the FDA’s recent “policy clarification” about not using wooden boards to age cheese. You can read a recent Forbes story on the controversy, “FDA May Destroy American Artisan Cheese Industry,” here.
According to Forbes, “The FDA’s decree came after the New York State Department of Agriculture asked the FDA for clarification as to whether wooden surfaces were acceptable for the aging of cheese. In response, Monica Metz, Branch Chief of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition’s Dairy and Egg Branch (and a former employee of Leprino) wrote:
“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.”
I was just talking with artisan cheesemaker Jerry Steckler of Steckler Grassfed in southern Indiana about this earlier in the week. He noted that not using wooden shelves would definitely change the flavor of his cheeses.
But happily, the FDA has backpedaled on the idea that wooden shelves aren’t safe to use. Again, according to Forbes:
“The FDA is backing away (at least temporarily) from a policy statement that declared cheese makers would no longer be able to age their cheese on wooden boards. The statement caused outrage in the artisan cheese community and consumers quickly came to the aid of the industry signing onto a petition and expressing their outrage through social media. The American Cheese Society released a position statement, and it was clear that the industry was prepared to fight back if the FDA did not change its position.”
Here’s part of The American Cheese Society’s position statement on the issue:
“For centuries, cheesemakers have been creating delicious, nutritious, unique cheeses aged on wood. Today’s cheesemakers—large and small, domestic and international—continue to use this material for production due to its inherent safety, unique contribution to the aging and flavor-development process, and track record of safety as part of overall plant hygiene and good manufacturing practices. No foodborne illness outbreak has been found to be caused by the use of wood as an aging surface.
“The American Cheese Society (ACS) strongly encourages FDA to revise its interpretation of the Code of
Federal Regulation (21 CFR 110.40(a)) to continue to permit properly maintained, cleaned, and sanitized wood as an aging surface in cheesemaking as has been, and is currently, enforced by state and federal regulators and inspectors.”
I’d hate to see our artisan cheesemakers, like Capriole, Traders Point Creamery and others, negatively affected by a misguided policy change.