Earlier this month reports emerged that the FDA had detained a U.S.-bound shipment of mimolette, a French cheese.
Mimolette, which has been imported into the U.S. for decades, is beloved and is unusual because its rind contains microscopic cheese mites. The FDA also recently held up a shipment of another such French cheese, Salers.
The FDA’s complaints about the cheeses that reached U.S. shores in these cases? That they contain cheese mites.
If this FDA crackdown on a set of rather obscure, mitey artisanal cheeses that conform to traditional standards sounds like a small, targeted regulatory intervention involving cheeses you’ve never heard of, consider that this agency crackdown is but one small part of the FDA’s larger, very concerted international and domestic attack on artisanal cheeses—especially those made with raw milk.
Take a joint U.S.-Canadian government draft report, Quantitative Assessment of the Risk of Listeriosis from Soft-Ripened Cheese Consumption in the United States and Canada, which has cheese buyers and sellers alike scared about the future of artisanal cheese in North America.
Both the U.S. and Canadian governments currently require soft and semi-soft cheeses sold across state (or provincial) borders to be aged for at least 60 days.
The report acknowledges, though, that “cheeses made from raw milk that have not been aged for 60 days” are legal in Canada in the province of Québec. The intrastate sale of raw milk and/or raw milk cheeses is legal in some sense in more than three-dozen states, according to this Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund map.
The report doesn't just touch on raw-milk cheeses. Its focus is laserlike. Indeed, by my count the words “raw” and “unpasteurized” appear more than 230 times in the 175-page report.
Both supporters and opponents of raw-milk cheeses view the report as a giant step toward increased restrictions on artisanal cheeses made with unpasteurized milk.
The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), whose members only “use pasteurized milk in cheese production,” notes the report will help the FDA in its ongoing “reevaluation of the current 60-day aging requirements for cheese made from raw milk.”
The report is a likely “prelude to increased regulations,” food law attorney Jason Foscolo, who represents many artisanal food producers, told me in a recent email.
But are increased regulations necessary? Critics of the study, including Foscolo, note the science doesn’t support that approach.
Indeed, much of the science contained in the report appears at least as soft as the raw-milk cheeses the report claims may be problematic.
The American Cheese Society, which represents artisanal producers, claims in comments it filed with the FDA that the draft report contains several “inaccurate and misleading” statements that could spur "increased regulatory efforts beyond those justified by empirical evidence.”