The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has caused quite a kerfuffle in the artisanal cheese business, leaving cheese makers wondering whether they can continue to use wood to age their wares.
The short answer: They can. But the FDA sent tremors through the relatively small but vibrant industry with a recent letter to food regulators in New York state. The memo questioned whether wood was a sanitary medium for cheese aging.
The FDA sent out a statement late Tuesday saying that the agency doesn’t have a new policy banning wooden shelves to age cheese. Still, the idea that the FDA might prohibit wood has had cheese makers up in arms over the past week.
“It’s a very big topic,” said Jodi Ohlsen Read, head of the Minnesota Cheesemakers Guild and an owner of Shepherd’s Way Farms in Nerstrand. “Wood has been used for aging cheese for eons,” she said. “It’s traditional.”
Ohlsen Read and two other artisanal cheese makers in Minnesota said they use plastic shelves to age their cheese, not wood. But wood is preferred by some cheese makers, particularly for hard cheeses like cheddar.
Any sort of ban on wood would have a “huge impact” on those who use it, Ohlsen Read said, because they would incur the expense of replacing their shelving systems.