With immigration reform in the news, here's another tale of the federal government telling foreigners that they're not welcome in the United States: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is holding thousands of pounds of mimolette cheese captive in a New Jersey compound because the regulators say the orange-hued, gouda-like fromage has too many mites on its rind.
Never mind that the mites—tiny, microscopic insects—are supposed to be there as part of a cheese-making process that goes back hundreds of years. The mites help to aerate the rind of mimolette, thus helping to produce the cheese's distinctive attributes. Many other cheeses—including hugely popular varieties such as Stilton and high-end "bandage-wrapped" cheddars—also have rind mites that serve similar purposes. The FDA worries that some people might have allergic reactions to the insects.
Virtually all of the mites are blown off the cheese with compressed air or wiped off by hand, but some always manage to stick around. Although it has no official or definitive guideline of how many mites per square inch is acceptable or safe, the FDA has decided that a recent uptick in the number on mimolette is grounds for holding the cheese hostage.
The result, explains Jill Erber, the owner of Cheestique in Alexandria, Virginia, is that once American cheese shops sell out whatever supplies they have left, the United States will be a mimolette-free zone. As she told Reason TV, there is simply no way to know how or when the prohibition might be lifted.
Erber, like other cheesemongers, isn't taking the arbitrary FDA action lying down. As a way of drawing attention to the situation, Cheesetique offered patrons of its Alexandria and Shirlington, Virginia free chunks of mimolette if they posted Facebook pictures of themselves frowning. Another Facebook page, Save the Mimolette, has over 2,000 likes and is rallying forces to say "No to the Mimolette ban in the US! Let us eat stinky cheese!"
For Erber, who worries the FDA will extend the ban to other mite-rind cheeses, the issue is about more than just cheese. "Food is one of the products for which it's easy to say less regulation is better," she explains. "The research is out there, let people look into what they want to eat. If they're concerned about the safety of a particular food, they shouldn't consume it."
And, she adds, "It's less about the actual cheese and more about 'I want my choice.'"
Produced by Meredith Bragg and Nick Gillespie. About 3.30 minutes.
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