Russian cheese lovers have endured a rough few months. Since August – when the government banned food imports from Western countries as a result of the international controversy over eastern Ukraine – Russians have had to make do with a considerably depleted supply of dairy products, particularly in the cheese department. Russian dairy producers and cheesemakers are not capable of keeping with national demand, driving up the prices of already expensive Russian-made products.
Despite the fact that almost 80% of Russian citizens support the government’s choice to declare the imports ban, the black market for foreign foods has seen considerable growth since the summer; it seems that Russians aren’t willing to sacrifice their favorite foods in the name of politics. In particular, illegal cheese deals are rampantly increasing throughout Russian cities and towns. In an interview with Business Insider, a banker from Moscow described the typical cheese trade:
A sort of speakeasy scene for French and Italian cheeses evolved which was akin to buying drugs from 1980s bodegas in Brooklyn… First, you walk into the bodega slowly, trying to wipe any suspicious look from your face. Then you pretend to look around the shelves for a while until the clerk recognizes you, at which point you and the clerk make eye contact and establish that metaphysical connection that signifies to both of you “I’m here to cop an ounce.” You wait until there are no customers around, approach the clerk. He takes you to the back room, shows you the goods, you haggle over the price, shove the bag in your pocket, hand over the cash and bounce. Except here you’re leaving the store with a ball of fresh Italian mozzarella…
While many European cheesemakers are feeling the financial effects of Russia’s foreign food ban, the often-forgotten Eastern European country of Belarus has since stepped up to the plate and has become Russia’s new international cheese source. As a former Soviet Union satellite nation, Belarus is one EU country with which Russia has continued to trade. However, despite becoming the top supplier of legal cheese, many Russian chefs have noted that Belarus’s cheese is a poor substitute to real Italian or French cheeses. For the sake of our cheese-loving comrades, we hope an end to Russia’s foreign foods ban is right around the corner.Photo Credit: Image courtesy of irishtimes.com