On Tuesday the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they would begin enforcing rules that ban all cheeses that are aged on wooden boards, a move that would effectively outlaw many American and French artisan cheeses.
Then today, they changed their collective mind. Apparently the public outcry that greeted this announcement was so intense that the FDA had second thoughts.
Had the ban stood, it would have effected a huge swath of artisan cheeses. Many of the best known cheeses from America and France are aged on wooden boards, including the Comte cheese that we use on croques, onion soup, sandwiches and baked eggs at both Le Pichet and Cafe Presse.
Despite the reversal, however, our cheeses are not yet secure. In a statement, the FDA said:
“In the interest of public health, the FDA’s current regulations state that utensils and other surfaces that contact food must be “adequately cleanable” and properly maintained. Historically, the FDA has expressed concern about whether wood meets this requirement and has noted these concerns in inspectional findings. FDA is always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese. The FDA 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.”
Clearly the FDA is unconvinced of the safety of aging cheeses on wood, despite the centuries-long history of artisan cheese production without health concerns.
Cheese lovers, don’t let your guard down. As an Op-Ed piece by New York Times writer David Firestone says “Keep your government hands off my cheese”!