A common tale that many US-based cheesemongers like to share with other cheesemongers and makers involves a know-it-all European customer. This anecdotal customer is portrayed as a snob who is dissing American-made cheeses—preferring those of her country instead. In each case, the cheesemonger works extra hard to taste cheeses that would convince the customer that indeed there is quality cheese made in the US.
Sixteen years ago, when the first US producers exhibited in Bra, Italy, during the Cheese Festival organized by Slow Food International, the visiting cheesemakers experienced similar interactions. However, in 2017 the story is a new one. Not only is the US the honored guest country, but there is also a key panel discussing raw milk cheese production in the States.
It was an opportunity to recognize an American cheesemaker, Andy Hatch from Uplands Cheese in Wisconsin, with the Resistenza Casearia Award. The award, in the words of the organization, honors “people who have played an important role in the cheese-making world, especially in safeguarding raw milk cheese production”. Slow Food made an extra effort to recognize four producers from around the world who produce with raw milk and/or create and use their natural ferments/starters.
Along with Andy Hatch, two other US-based cheesemakers were on hand during the presentation on cheese production—Marieke Penterman and Kat Feete. The three of them explained some of the challenges of producing with raw milk in an adverse regulatory environment. However, they focused on the battles won with the support of the cheese community in the US. The energy in the room was electric; this presentation was heralded as the coming of age of American raw milk cheesemaking. International and US media were present to hear from cheesemakers, the American Cheese Society, the Oldways Cheese Coalition, and Slow Food—all organizations working diligently to provide support to cheesemakers back home. The audience also included advocates from around the world.
A highlight of the conversation was an explanation of how pricing and cost of transportation are making American cheeses less competitive in the European market. However, Marieke said that she recently sold a pallet of her raw milk Gouda to the Dutch—marking a turning point for her cheeses.
Similarly, Kat explained that with the increased capacity achieved after the incorporation of a new farm purchased in 2014, they will have a better chance to expand to new markets in the US and abroad. When asked about the challenges in producing with raw milk, Kat Feete from Meadow Creek Dairy remarked that being a second-generation raw-milk cheesemaker, she doesn’t know the issues of producing with pasteurized milk.
With a resounding, newly found voice in the international conversation, our producers went back to their stalls to sell cheese and impress upon inquisitive Italians that there is indeed good cheese in the US.