According the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the only acceptable cheese is not made by one of the many artisan cheese makers from places like Wisconsin, New York and Vermont. Under a new interpretation of an old law, the FDA told artisan cheese makers that their cheese cannot be cured on wood planks, though the process has been done for thousands of years.

According to Madison, Wis.-based blog, Cheese Underground, the FDA inspected several New York state cheese makers and cited them for using wooden surfaces to age their cheeses. The New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets' Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services, which (like most every state in the U.S., including Wisconsin), has allowed this practice, reached out to FDA for clarification on the issue. A response was provided by Monica Metz, Branch Chief of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition's (CFSAN) Dairy and Egg Branch.

In the response, Metz stated that the use of wood for cheese ripening or aging is considered an unsanitary practice by FDA, and a violation of FDA's Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) regulations. Here's an excerpt:

"Microbial pathogens can be controlled if food facilities engage in good manufacturing practice. Proper cleaning and sanitation of equipment and facilities are absolutely necessary to ensure that pathogens do not find niches to reside and proliferate. Adequate cleaning and sanitation procedures are particularly important in facilities where persistent strains of pathogenic microorganisms like Listeria monocytogenes could be found. The use of wooden shelves, rough or otherwise, for cheese ripening does not conform to cGMP requirements, which require that "all plant equipment and utensils shall be so designed and of such material and workmanship as to be adequately cleanable, and shall be properly maintained."

The new scrutiny is due to the Food Safety Modernization Act, which is the most sweeping reform of American food safety laws in generations that was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011.

This change could be devastating for artisan cheese makers and their award-winning cheeses. American Cheese Society triple Best in Show winner Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese in Wisconsin is cured on wooden boards. Likewise for award-winners Cabot Clothbound in Vermont, current U.S. Champion cheese Marieke Feonegreek, and 2013 Best in Show Runner-Up Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar.

"It's just the latest in a pattern under [the Food Safety Modernization Act]," Walter Olson, senior fellow at the Cato Institute's Center for Constitutional Studies, told The Daily Caller.

"When Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act three and a half years ago, libertarians and others warned again and again that the law would put traditional, local and artisanal food and farm methods at risk, and instead promote mass industrial food," Olson said.

He said that consumer groups and many progressives dismissed those concerns as alarmist.

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