Save the cheese!
posted at 6:41 pm on June 14, 2013 by Mary Katharine Ham
We may have to bid adieu to yet another delicious French cheese, caught up in the FDA’s protect-you-from-yourself racket, which it turns out is about as unsatisfying and expensive as a traditional protection racket. Katherine Mangu-Ward reports on a small, Virginia cheese purveyor— and a good one, I can testify—who is pushing back on an FDA lockdown on mimolette:
The process for making mimolette sounds pretty gross. The rind of this French gouda competitor is aerated by tiny cheese mites, which burrow into the skin. When the cheese is ready for market, the mites are removed—mostly. It’s tough to get every single one of those little buggers off, which means the cheese poses a minute risk to customer who might be allergic to the mites.
The Food and Drug Administration’s solution: Total cheese lockdown:
Since March, several hundred pounds of the bright orange cheese have been held up by US customs because of a warning by the Food and Drug Administration that it contained microscopic cheese mites.
The mites are a critical part of the process to produce mimolette, giving it its distinctive grayish crust.
An FDA spokesperson, in true bureaucrat style, denies to Dairy Reporter there’s any ban on mimolette, but kinda sorta defends one if there were one, which he’s not saying there is. Mimolette, it turns out, may fall outside the FDA’s mite-per-square-inch limit, which I for one, am so glad it’s spending time establishing and policing:
According to the FDA’s Patricia El-Hinnawy, there’s no official limit, but the target is no more than six mites per square inch. For Mimolette, that’s a near impossible standard.
Benoit de Vitton is the North American representative for Isigny, one of the largest producers of Mimolette. In March, de Vitton began receiving letters from each of the dozen importers he works with, saying that their Mimolette shipments had been detained.
De Vitton estimates that he now has about a ton of cheese sitting in FDA warehouses in New Jersey. “They say the product, because of the mites, it is not proper for human consumption,” de Vitton sighs.
Ironically, de Vitton notes that Mimolette itself is rumored to have been created because of import issues in the 17th century. “The French were at war with Holland, and the king didn’t want any more Dutch Gouda coming to France. So he asked to create kind of the same cheese.”
But, hey, these bureaucrats are just here to keep you safe. And, that’s what they’re doing, right? Not really:
But in the 21st century, do we need a cheese ban? Microbiologist Rachel Dutton runs a cheese lab at Harvard University, and we checked in with her about the dangers of mites. Dutton notes that there have been some reports of mite allergies, but they seem to be restricted to people who have come into contact with large numbers of mites.
Adieu, Mimolette. It’s been nice knowing you. And thank you, FDA, for further limiting our ability to choose for ourselves.
Vive le fromage!
All you have to do is post a sad picture of yourself and your mimolette to her Facebook page, mourning your right to choose your cheese. Rock on, Cheese Lady, as she calls herself. The persecution of mimolette has spawned protests before, and I’m game for one here. At the very least, go out and sample some interesting cheese while you still can. The government will have you back on exclusively emulsified pablum before long!
French cheeses have long been a target of the FDA, and the ban on some of them inspired this pro gun-control meme during the last Congressional gun debate. It was meant to highlight the allegedly outrageous ease with which Americans can purchase firearms in contrast to their difficulties coming across Roquefort. To which I say, hey that is crazy. All those cheeses should totally be legal, too!