MADISON, Wis. - Local cheesemakers said their livelihoods could be devastated by recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration advice having to do with how cheese is aged.
Many of the state's small-batch artisan cheesemakers use wooden boards in their aging process, but the FDA said this week it has concerns that process may not be safe.
In Shullsburg, Roelli Cheese makes their award-winning Dunbarton cheddar bleu cheese by aging it on white pine boards. Cheesemaker Chris Roelli said it imparts a unique flavor with the cheese and wood sharing bacteria to grow the moldy rind.
"It is the most artistic way to age cheese as opposed to making a product in the cheese factory," Roelli said.
But the FDA issued advice this week saying the process may not be a safe food producing process and cheesemakers are concerned it could lead to the end of wood board aging.
"People won't be able to get their favorite recipes from abroad, won't be able to get their favorite domestic recipes," Roelli said. "Just a change of that magnitude in this business would be devastating for a lot of businesses, mine included."
The FDA clarified their ruling, saying they do not have a "new policy" on wooden shelves but instead they have historically had concerns about the process. The organization said it would engage with the cheese industry to determine what can be made safely.
Congress isn't waiting around for that though, with Wisconsin Reps. Paul Ryan, Mark Pocan and Ron Kind signing onto a bipartisan amendment to the agriculture spending bill saying no money could go to any enforcement of this rule. The measure is expected to be considered in the House next week.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has also been in touch with the FDA and said they will continue to. DATCP currently has a policy that allows wood aging with proper cleaning and heating procedures.