Today, I just want to touch on the FDA and what that particular entity has done, and is doing to destroy small businesses, further the monopolies of giant agribusinesses and insure large dividends and favors paid to the leaders of the agency. This isn't just accusatory braggadocio, these are pretty much well documented activities that are all inclusively referred to as the "Monsanto Revolving Door". (Monsanto) We think it began with old Dr. Hays being appointed FDA Director by Reagan and then he performed one function, he approved aspartame. Then he retired and took a thousand dollar a day job for a ten year contract with the PR company for the manufacturer of the stuff. And never worked a day again in his life. That was the visible start, but I am pretty well certain that it went on long before then. Graft and corruption have been an integral part of the workings of governments and big industry since just after this country was formed. Perhaps we should look at that Smithsonian article on power corrupting, might be some insight there.
One of the things that the FDA will do for any industry is destroy your competitors. It probably isn't on the FDA website as one of their solemn duties, but it happens. And since congress passed the new Food Modernization Act in 2011, it has become easier for them. We can see some of their previous work in the field at this little essay I wrote a while back, (Targeting small industries); however what is going on now is getting into smaller industries, with just as deadly results. The latest victim of FDA control, cheese. Not the little plastic wrapped slices of a milk product that barely resembles actual cheese, but the real stuff. Artisanal cheeses made according to time honored methods. Everyone eats cheese. According to the feds themselves, about 93% of Americans eat cheese. We eat about 32 pounds of cheese per person annually. A lot of them eat those cheese-like products that are available at the local megamart and regular grocers as well as eating nachos at ball games and local purveyors of alcoholic beverages. But according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, fully 36% of the grocery stores now have devoted shelf space to various specialty cheeses. The problem for big agribusiness is pretty simple, cheese sales of all the standards has been pretty flat with no growth (an actual decline in 2011) since 2007. Artisanal and specialty cheese sales are skyrocketing. Double digit growth is rare in the food industry in long term measurements, and when it happens, the big guys take notice. And they react. When organic foods began their record breaking growth in the mid 2000's the big guys began to market "All Natural" labels on their crap, and many even began developing their own organic brands and products. Some just went ahead and bought out their organic competitors thus adding that phenomenal growth to their own bottom line.
Big business has seen the writing on the wall, and they have responded by developing their own lines of specialty cheeses. A lot have been around for awhile, domestic Parmigiana (sad sad sad stuff) as well as domestic high tech low flavor versions of so many of the great cheeses out there. And the stuff sells, if for no other reason than that's all that's available at the local megamart. And of course, the inevitable outcome that the giants want is to remove the competition so that the only offerings available for consumers is the crap that they produce. That's where the FDA comes in. They're really good at making things difficult for the little guys to stay in business. Last week the FDA announced new guidelines for the manufacturers of artisanal cheeses. It seems simple, yet it's these little regulation changes that will kill small producers. The change, cheeses can no longer be aged on wood boards. The reason, bacteria grow on wood boards and can cause infections of Listeria and maybe other harmful bacteria. Cheeses have, and are, aged on wooden boards all over the world. As they have been for thousands of years. Wood breathes a bit, adds certain particular nuances to the flavors, and are pretty cheap. Let's repeat that. WOOD BOARDS ARE USED ALL OVER THE WORLD. Will it make a difference? Yes, for small cheese makers the expense of buying thousands of square feet of stainless steel in which to replace the traditional wood will be the end of most of them. This is a link to a great article about why it's a bad thing, I like the picture as well. (Cheese) The problems are huge, and don't just cover American cheese makers, it will in all probability ban ALL cheeses imported into this country that were aged on wooden boards. That is something that puts the competition in its place.
So let me just talk about some of the things that might go the wayside and never ever be able to be enjoyed by consumers here in America ever again. These are just some of my favorite things to do with cheese.
- Parmesan. the real thing, not the domestic stuff. The rind and inside half inch has these incredible crunchy salt crystals that pop and explode flavor in your mouth. Best thing to do with it, fork out chunks and drop some 25 year old balsamic on it and eat with red fully ripe strawberries sprinkled with freshly ground Telicherry black pepper
- Manchego, one of the great Spanish cheeses, made from sheep's milk and pressed into grass lined molds then aged for 4 to 6 months, with better ones up to 24 months. Delicious with fig jam. Sadly, there are domestic imitations out there. Avoid them. Eat as is, it is incredible.
- Real Cheddars, sounds weird but most people think cheddar is yellow. That is an American attempt to add flavor with the incorporation of annatto and chemicals. Real cheddar has none of that crap and is great plain and aged or some great and incredible things are made by the artisans by adding things like Porter, caramelized onions, caraway and rye malt, cranberries, and,.... oh, my, I feel faint.
- Blue, This family of stinky cheeses are at the worst, a bit off-putting because the do stink a bit, and at their best, creamy, bursting with intense flavors and luscious notes that linger on your palate. Serve any blue with some fruit, or blanched walnuts. Again, fig jam and small rye toast points are fantastic. First blue for a novice, Chiriboga. Damn Krauts tend to piss into the wind and do little well with respect to food, but they make this bit of heaven. And then go from there, many many domestic artisan blues are in better grocers like Whole Foods or AJ's here in Phoenix. Then there is...
- Stilton. There is no comparison to Stilton, it is now, always has been, CHEESE ONE. This stuff will make a cheese fanatic of anyone, especially if you are fortunate enough to find unpasteurized Stilton. Once, sigh, just once in my life. Normally it is made with pasteurized milk as is required by law to be imported, but there is a black market for cheese out there. Eat this with figs, dates, very ripe pears and with a glass of 20 year old Amontilado. Oh, man, there truly is a heaven here on earth, and Stilton is the cause to seek it.
- Brie and Camembert, not my favorites for eating just cheese and fruit, but killer on a grilled whole wheat sandwich or as an add in to some great mac and heaven. This is always a party stopper as well, dice a bunch of mushrooms and saute until all the moisture evaporates. Add a half cup of good Madeira or other semisweet sherry and saute until dry. Add a half cup minced shallots and cook another two minutes. Lay out a large square of puff paste and put half the mushroom mix in the middle, then place the cheese in the middle and the remainder the mushrooms on top of that. Now, try this, it is fantastic, spoon a couple heaping spoonfuls of fig jam around the top. Fold up the puff paste and seal with beaten egg. Wash the whole thing with the egg wash and bake at 425 until well browned and puffy. This is the bomb.
- Mimolette, this is a spectacular hard rind but semi-firm interior cheese that has flavor flavor flavor. The rind is edible even though it looks like a cantalope. The cheese is orange, and pairs incredibly with any fruit and great with any good beer. They are little rounds about 3 pounds each and worth whatever you pay as it will make you love great cheese.
- Feta, I know, it sounds weird, but feta is incredible. Well, it has been a disappointment here in Phoenix, but in Austin there were places you can go and find as many as 8 different styles of feta. I do so miss Austin. Anyway, AJ's has a couple sheep's milk fetas and there is a middle eastern store at 35th and Greenway that has olives and a few fetas as well. Don't get me started on olives. Sheesh.
- Yuulong Lavender, this cheese is incredible. From Australia, it is flavored with mountain lavender and is great as a dessert pairing with fruit and a great semi-sweet white wine. And chocolate too!
- Gorgonzola, technically a blue, but this one is the Italian version and is one of my favorites for cooking with. Take a half pound of the stuff and chop it. Bring some water to boil for linguine. Blanche a cup of walnuts in the water for a minute. Drain. In a large skillet melt some butter and saute some sliced shallots for a minute. Add the blanched drained walnuts and the cooked linguine. Add the cheese and a cup of half and half and stir until the cheese melts. Garnish with a few crumbles and chopped Italian parsley and if you have it, a few leaves of oregano as well.