Friday, February 13, 2009

Cheese Regulations

*Today's post is being brought to you by the letter 'U'*

Since it's a very popular topic today, let's take a look at Roquefort. Soapbox break: The most recent President Bush imposed a 300% tax increase on this cheese which will go into effect in March unless President Obama does something about it. While I appreciate the concern of the people that they won't have Roquefort access, we have a serious economical catastrophe on our hands and while I love and respect all cheeses both domestic and foreign, not bringing in Roquefort is not at the top of my list of concerns, and it shouldn't be on the presidents either. It will be a shame if we can't get Roquefort in the States anymore, but not as big a calamity as the unemployment rate, or home foreclosures or any of the other gajillion things that are causing our economical plight.

Okay, I'm done now. Sometimes even though I don't want it to, you can't separate cheese from politics. Today's post is one of those times.

Roquefort is a controlled cheese. It as governed by the Appellation d' Origine Controlee or the A.O.C. In order to be an A.O.C. cheese the cheese must follow the following rules:

1. Not just the type of animal used, but the breed as well
2. The region that the milk comes from and where the cheese is made
3. How the cheese is made
4. The cheese components which include fat content and rind type
5. The physical characteristics of the cheese including size, shape and weight
6. Specific attributes of the cheese including color flavor and aroma

Parmigiano-Reggiano another cheese that is controlled. Being an Italian cheese, it is a different organization called the D.O.C., Denominazione di Origine Controllata.

Switzerland has controls on a more regional basis. The cheese factories are owned b the regional cooperative which control the cheese name, recipe and cheesemaking process.

In Spain it's called Quesos con Denominacion de Origen aka D.O.

The British Isles had control, and then didn't and kind of do and are going to be mentioned in another post at another time.

The United States has no cheese regulations to protect it. Okay, that's sort of a lie. Let me explain. Or better yet, let Hilary Clinton circa 2007 explain. During the fall of 2007 Hilary Clinton made a statement that if you have an open faced ham and cheese sandwich it's regulated by the USDA, but put that sandwich between two pieces of bread and it's under the jurisdiction of the FDA.

This is a fundamental problem with our food in this country. We have two different agencies who are supposed to look at different things based on pulling a topic out of a hat. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. I'll give you a cheese example and this is from the FDA website:

Sec. 133.102 Asiago fresh and asiago soft cheese.

(a) Asiago fresh cheese, asiago soft cheese, is the food prepared
from milk and other ingredients specified in this section, by the
procedure set forth in paragraph (b) of this section, or by another
procedure which produces a finished cheese having the same physical and
chemical properties as the cheese produced when the procedure set forth
in paragraph (b) of this section is used. It contains not more than 45
percent of moisture, and its solids contain not less than 50 percent of
milkfat, as determined by the methods prescribed in Sec. 133.5 (a), (b),
and (d). It is cured for not less than 60 days.
(b) Milk which may be pasteurized or clarified or both, and which
may be warmed, is subjected to the action of harmless lactic-acid
producing bacteria, present in such milk or added thereto. Harmless
artificial blue or green coloring in a quantity which neutralizes any
natural yellow coloring in the curd may be added. Sufficient rennet, or
other safe and suitable milk-clotting enzyme that produces equivalent
curd formation, or both, with or without purified calcium chloride in a
quantity not more than 0.02 percent (calculated as anhydrous calcium
chloride) of the weight of the milk, is added to set the milk to a
semisolid mass. The mass is cut, stirred, and heated to promote and
regulate separation of the whey from the curd. The whey is drained off.
When the curd is sufficiently firm it is removed from the kettle or vat,
further drained for a short time, packed into hoops, and pressed. The
pressed curd is salted in brine and cured in a well-ventilated room.
During curing the surface of the cheese is occasionally rubbed with a
vegetable oil. A harmless preparation of enzymes of animal or plant
origin capable of aiding in the curing or development of flavor of
asiago fresh cheese may be added during the procedure in such quantity
that the weight of the solids of such preparation is not more than 0.1
percent of the weight of the milk used.
(c)(1) For the purposes of this section, the word "milk" means
cow's milk, which may be adjusted by separating part of the fat
therefrom or by adding thereto one or more of the following: Cream, skim
milk, concentrated skim milk, nonfat dry milk, water in a quantity
sufficient to reconstitute any concentrated skim milk or nonfat dry milk
(2) Such milk may be bleached by the use of benzoyl peroxide or a
mixture of benzoyl peroxide with potassium alum, calcium sulfate, and
magnesium carbonate; but the weight of the benzoyl peroxide is not more
than 0.002 percent of the weight of the milk bleached, and the weight of
the potassium alum, calcium sulfate, and magnesium carbonate, singly or
combined, is not more than six times the weight of the benzoyl peroxide
used. If milk is bleached in this manner, sufficient vitamin A is added
to the curd to compensate for

[[Page 311]]

the vitamin A or its precursors destroyed in the bleaching process, and
artificial coloring is not used.
(d) Safe and suitable antimycotic agent(s), the cumulative levels of
which shall not exceed current good manufacturing practice, may be added
to the surface of the cheese.
(e) Label declaration: Each of the ingredients used in the food
shall be declared on the label as required by the applicable sections of
parts 101 and 130 of this chapter, except that enzymes of animal, plant,
or microbial origin may be declared as "enzymes"}

Awesome! So, as long as I follow the rules, I, Cheesewench extraordinaire can make Asiago Fresco in Chicago and label and market it as such. It will have no flavor or character, but it will be cheese. You won't get that nice creamy milky slightly sour tang, or the slight sweet and yet herbaceous quality. But, it will be Asiaso Fresco.

American cheese has a legal definition. It is legal for it to have as little as 51% cheese . The rest is emulsifiers, enzymes, coloring, pixie dust , eye of newt and a wee pinch of despair. Velveeta is less than 51% cheese. I don't know what's in Velveeta. My guess is unadulterated evil and the tears of the innocent, but I could be wrong.

Velveeta had a commercial where they claimed that Velveeta was better than Cheddar. Velveeta was better because it melted uniformly and didn't "break" when heated (if you've ever made mac n' cheese you know what I'm talking about). They lauded it's ability to melt uniformly without turning into an oily mass like Cheddar. This ad made me perturbed as you might imagine. Yes the cheese that's made of less than 51% cheese doesn't break. You know why? Because it's not cheese! It's cheese-like with other non cheesy bits emulsified into it.

Another commercial made reference to how cheap Velveeta is. Of course it's cheap. IT'S NOT CHEESE! They are comparing additives to natural ingredients and it's a sneaky thing to do. Poo on them!

Ok, back to the matter at hand. The bottom line is, yes oh faithful cheese blog reader, there are regulations on cheese. Just not what we'd hoped. I looked high and low but could not get a straight answer from Sargento, the FDA or USDA about what the percentage is of artisan cheese that allows you to put it on the packaging. My answer to the first question I ever get on the blog is "I don't know-for certain".

What I do know is this: artisan cheese is handmade, and made in small batches. Sargento is a huge Megatron cheese maker (Transformers reference intended). An small artisan cheesemaker would not be able to keep up with Sargento's cheesy demands. I can't imagine that the artisan cheese to shredded industrial cheese ratio is very high.

The American Cheese Society and it's cheesemaking and cheese loving members are trying to get our government to get some regulations out there that will protect quality cheese, and their makers. Wouldn't it be great knowing that if you want to call a cheese artisan that it actually has to be made from artisan cheese, not just tidbits and percentages?

I am intrigued by Ursula's question and plan on investigating a little bit more. If anyone out there can give a more concrete answer, let me know. Thanks for the question, and if you guys have any questions for me, send me an email. I'll do my best to answer any and all questions.



Old Man said...

Be careful what you wish for. When the government got involved with the definition of Organic, Wal-Mart became the largest supplier of “organic” food. Government regulations are made by lobbyists, and the big companies like Sargento or Kraft, can buy more lobbyists than all the small cheese makers put together.

Cheesewench said...

Old Man is right. Money=Power. Small independent farms don't have the kind of pull that Sargento does. If regulations were placed on the maker of the cheese instead of the product we might end up with better results.

Pamela said...

As a soon-to be ARTISAN cheese maker, in the true sense of the word, this has always caused a little consternation. How much stock are people going to put into that word if Sargento gets to use it. I thought that Artisan means small and exclusive. Definitively not


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