Uplands Cancels Production of Rush Creek Reserve Due To Regulatory Uncertainty
If you’ve been wondering what impact recent FDA actions might have on American artisan cheesemaking, this morning brings some news that illustrates it in stark, and unfortunate, terms. The following letter was sent to cheesemongers and distributors by Andy Hatch, co-owner and head cheesemaker at Uplands Cheese Co., announcing that they will be canceling this season’s production of their incredibly popular, and awarding winning, bark-wrapped, Vacherin-style cheese, Rush Creek Reserve:
From: Uplands Cheese
I’m writing to let you know that we will not be making any Rush Creek Reserve this year. It’s disappointing news, I know, and we hope that it’s not permanent. Food safety officials have been unpredictable, at best, in their recent treatment of soft, raw-milk cheeses, and until our industry is given clear and consistent guidance, we are forced to stop making these cheeses.
I’m sorry if this throws a wrench into your plans for the holidays - it certainly does on our end. It’s not a decision we came to easily. Hopefully, our government officials will soon agree on how to treat traditional cheesemaking, and we can all return to the cheeses that are so important to us.
This will be a loss for mongers in the winter/holiday season, as the Rush Creek was always a cheese counter and wholesale favorite, but it also shows just what kind of impact the FDA’s often hostile — and perhaps worse, unclear and shifting — regulatory approach to cheesemakers can have. Uplands Cheese, while small compared to the big cheese companies, is nonetheless a well-established, award-winning, commercially successful operation, and yet they don’t feel they can keep making this particular cheese, in the present regulatory environment. Smaller and newer cheesemakers will have a hard time continuing their own cheeses that might fall afoul of the FDA’s latest enforcement focus.
There will probably be other domestically-produced, Vacherin-style cheeses this winter (and hopefully imports of actual Vacherin and Mont d’Or won’t be impacted, although given recent FDA holds on imports from France and Italy, I wouldn’t assume it), but this is a big loss, and a potential sign of things to come. Stay tuned.
Update 08/15: I emailed with Andy Hatch, and he confirmed that this decision had not come in response to any FDA visit or letter, and that they’d never had problems during routine inspections, but “was a decision made slowly as I’ve watched the regulatory climate get more unpredictable over the year or so, with soft, raw-milk, farmstead cheese as the FDA’s worst-case scenario.”
He also added some advice for fellow cheesemakers: “all of us selling cheese these days - raw or not - should be testing every batch and tightening up our environmental control and monitoring. Each small problem just adds another arrow to the FDA’s quiver.”
(Emails quoted with permission from Uplands Cheese Co.)