Government cheese was that dreaded phrase from the 1980s meaning welfare, when processed cheese and butter were stockpiled as a dairy subsidy and then passed out to those on government aid via the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program of the Food and Nutrition Service.

But now instead of giving away cheese, the government is going after it!

Specifically wood board-aged cheese. Made by small artisan cheesemakers, many of whom have created their cheeses to be aged on boards. Some of these are among the most awarded and well-respected artisan cheeses n the U.S.– American Cheese Society triple Best in Show winner Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese in Wisconsin, award-winners Cabot Clothbound from Vermont, current U.S. Champion cheese Marieke Gouda, and 2013 Best in Show Runner-Up Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar. Also affected by the ban, Comté and Beaufort which are are even required to be aged on wooden boards as part of their identity

CheesemakerBlog explains:

The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week announced it will not permit American cheesemakers to age cheese on wooden boards. Recently, the FDA inspected several New York state cheesemakers and cited them for using wooden surfaces to age their cheeses. The New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets’ Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services, which (like most every state in the U.S., including Wisconsin), has allowed this practice, reached out to FDA for clarification on the issue….

It does not consider this to be a new policy, but rather an enforcement of an existing policy. And worse yet, FDA has reiterated that it does not intend to change this policy.

In an email to industry professionals, Rob Ralyea, Senior Extension Associate in the Department of Food Science and the Pilot Plant Manager at Cornell University in New York, says: “According to the FDA this is merely proper enforcement of the policy that was already in place. While the FDA has had jurisdiction in all food plants, it deferred cheese inspections almost exclusively to the states. This has all obviously changed under FSMA.”

Ah, FSMA. For those of you not in the know, the Food Safety Modernization Act is the most sweeping reform of American food safety laws in generations. It was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011 and aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.

Oddly the FSMA does not prevent GMOs in our food supply…

Thrillist points out:

At the very minimum, this new ruling could run small cheese businesses into the ground, and make importing cheese extremely difficult. But it could also destroy the flavor of your preferred cheese blocks as their makers are forced to age on plastic.

(And btw, this amounts to job destruction, not job creation, since the new regulations could drive cheesemakers out of business! Shame on the FDA!)

If the FDA’s latest incursion into our god(s)-given rights to eat fermented, aged, and bacteria-laden milk, has you cheesed off, you can let the White House know via petition.


Parmigiano-Reggiano in a modern factory. Note the use of metal-edged wood boards. The United States is the world’s second largest producer of cheese behind the European Union.

Photo by Zerohund under Creative Commons license.