Let us all resolve to eat more cheese next year! We will be happier and healthier if we do. Many cheese makers and cheese mongers will be happier and healthier too!
The per capita consumption in the U.S. continues to rise, the quality of cheese we are consuming is improving, and the past decade has seen dramatic improvements in domestic cheese making. This all bodes well for all Americans. Just to become the number one consumers of fine cheeses is not the goal in itself, yet it would be cool if we did become the biggest consumers. (We are already the biggest consumers of several other things, like gas and electricity.) Far less noble claims, wouldn’t you say?
I believe we should enjoy cheeses from other countries too, even if other countries are less enamored by ours, so far. The per capita consumption of some western European countries has not held up. As it is, I suspect that we already consume more cheese than the Spanish – a sad thing for them. We may have surpassed the British too, not sure but not worth investigating presently.
The impact of this diminished appreciation of cheese in some countries may force some cheese making operations to close. The economics simply are not there. If these producers are not supported by their countrymen then they must look to export markets. Otherwise there is a strong danger that some of these excellent types of cheese will become extinct. Once those cheeses disappear it is highly unlikely that they will be restored. This is one reason I taste as many cheeses as I can. I want to experience the products of as many artisan cheese makers as I can.
The same extinctions have occurred in this country. Several exceptional cheeses are no longer around. This phenomenon cannot be completely stopped of course. Sometimes a cheese maker retires and no one is willing to step in to take over. Very often it is simple math. The bottom line makes the enterprise unsustainable. Rarely, the end of production can be attributed to negligent cheese making which can lead to contamination problems. Once the contaminations are detected it can wreak havoc on a cheese making facility, if not completely closing it down! Fortunately these problems are extremely rare. The industry has done an exceptional job at being self-vigilant. This is especially true of the more artisanal of operations. The cheese is their livelihood, and in more cases than not, the producers are eating their cheeses and feeding them to their families.
I suspect that there will be many people who are making the resolution to reduce their cheese consumption, as though it is an indulgence they should forgo. There are probably several others that are planning to completely stop eating cheese. This means that all the rest of us need to pick up the slack. I know that I will do my part.