If you've been to a cheese shop or counter recently, you may have suffered some sticker shock - it's no secret that everything has gotten more expensive lately, but how much do you really know about the cost of real cheese? Good cheese usually isn't cheap, but the sticker shock is also directly connected to consumers' removal from the food system as a result of big box grocery stores and industrialization. In order to reconnect with our cheese, and develop a deeper appreciation for these products, we must first understand just how much work, passion, and knowledge is required to produce a wheel of real cheese and get it into our hands. Good cheese is an investment! Keep reading below to learn what it takes to get cheese from the farmer to your fridge, and how you can protect your investment and maintain your cheese's flavor. The price tag for real cheese represents not only the cheese itself, but the collective skill and labor of everyone involved in the process.
It would take days to describe every detail of how a wheel of cheese gets from the maker to the counter, but what's important to focus on is the number of hands that (literally and metaphorically) touch the cheese on it's journey to the shop. It's also important to remember that higher quality ingredients, equipment, and feed for the animals, for example, are expensive. There is no substitute for human skill and intuition when it comes to making and aging cheese, and employing humans instead of robots is expensive. And no robot can fully understand hundreds of years of cheesemaking tradition and technique.
We rightfully celebrate the farmer and the cheesemaker and the affineur, but we should also consider the people who clean the vats, and mop the floors, and wrap the cheeses, just to name a few. Additionally, the longer the cheese is aged, the fewer wheels of cheese can be produced, meaning each wheel will be more expensive but taste better than a cheese that was aged at an accelerated rate to make room for more cheese in the caves for faster cash. Longer, more deliberate aging also represents a significant cash flow issue for cheesemakers and affineurs, since they do not get paid until the cheese is sold - and this labor of love is often a skill handed down through generations in family businesses! So the price tag does not only represent the cheese itself, but the sometimes hundreds of years of technique and tradition that is present within that wheel.
Once the cheese is ready for sale, it needs to be packed up and moved from the aging facility to its next destination, which might be a port where the cheese will loaded onto a container by hand to be shipped overseas. Aside from the cost of transport to the port and ocean freight, importing cheese has costs associated with customs paperwork and FDA involvement, among other things. The cheese then spends 6 or more weeks in a temperature-controlled shipping container traveling to its next destination, where it will be unloaded by more human beings and cleared by the FDA. Since cheese is a living product, it must be meticulously packed up and maintained during transit so that it will arrive in good condition. It's then picked up by distributors, who need to make a profit off of it, and who will transport that cheese to the stores that will cut and sell it by hand, also for a profit so that employees and bills can be paid and more cheese can be purchased. Not to mention the high skill level and encyclopedic knowledge of the cheesemongers who care for the cheese once it reaches the cheese counter!
This is just the tip of the iceberg and does not even begin to cover the amount of labor and skill that is involved in every step of importing cheese. Understanding at least a small part of the process will help you start to appreciate how much work goes into getting you that quarter pound of aged Gouda or a perfectly ripe Camembert. Getting cheese from the farmer to the consumer is an incredibly nuanced process that requires an incredible amount of skill and knowledge from many different people!
But if waxing poetic about cheesemaking traditions and shipping logistics isn't enough to convince you, the most effective way to create a meaningful and emotional connection with your cheese is to taste it. Every bite contains years of passion, tradition, and experience across different countries and hundreds of people. The best way to honor this work is to uphold the same standard of care that everyone else along the way has shown your cheese - storing and wrapping your cheese in Formaticum will ensure that your cheese can breathe, maintains the perfect humidity levels, and most importantly, tastes great. Continuing a high standard of care at home is a great way to show respect for everyone else in the supply chain who worked so hard to get the cheese to you - and experience the flavor of the cheese as the cheesemaker intended!