Monday, October 6, 2008

London, final notes.

Over three quarters of the cheeses for sale on the counter at Neal's Yard Dairy's are "new" cheeses. That is, non-traditional cheeses that have been made for the first time in the last couple decades. That surprised me. I expected a lot more of the counter dedicated to old traditional cheeses like Stilton, Lancashire, Cheddar. Instead there are lots of cheeses I'd never heard of a few years ago, like Ogleshield, Cardo and -- my favorite name -- Cornish Yarg.

This mirrors what's happening in the USA. In the last five to ten years dozens and dozens of new cheese makers have started businesses. Other longstanding makers have become newly invigorated. In part I think some their strength is being derived from the weak dollar. European cheese costs a lot more than it did a few years ago. Next to a $35 per pound English Cheddar, American farmhouse cheese at $25 a pound looks like a relative bargain and more is certainly being sold because of price. But a lot of the success is thanks to hard work. When the dollar strengthens again we'll continue to have a much more diverse cheese landscape in America than we did before.

I think it's important to note that these cheeses might not have become great if it weren't for trade with Europe. There are simplistic arguments for local eating that miss out on the benefits everyone gets from trade. Because we can sell great cheese from Britain and Italy and elsewhere, because we developed a taste and awareness for this kind of cheese, because we created a market for greatness, we've built a foundation for great cheese to grow in America. U.S. farmers and entrepreneurs tasted, learned, and worked to make something as good as what Europe offered. Today a few American makers are creating cheese as good as you can eat anywhere. Imagine how much longer it would take if we had a closed market and we couldn't import these great cheeses to learn from? A bit of global trade helps local flavor.

I've added some photos from the trips to Montgomery's Cheddar and Linconlshire Poacher.

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