As part of my job, i have the opportunity to travel, find new foods and beverages as well as take a deep dive into foods I already know. This fall, I joined a press trip to Trentino-Alto Adige and learned more about Speck Alto Adige PGI, a dry-cured and lightly smoked ham from Northern Italy.
The hottest trend in retailing is something called “omni-channel.”
The big example that disrupted the whole industry was when Amazon bought Whole Foods. Though this combination of “Bricks and Clicks”—or physical stores and online purchases—is often what is spoken of when talking about Omni-Channel, it can also mean many different sales venues and delivery options.
I like to equate the rise of Sweet Cheddars to Breakfast Cereal. My grandmother was born in 1892, and her breakfast choice was oatmeal, although some new-fangled cereals were invented when she was a child. All were healthy and none had added sugar.
Today, cereals have insane levels of sugar and breakfast has become the least healthy meal with little differentiation between products. To break into the cereal market, a company must be a large corporation with deep pockets.
The cheese market is in flux:
- Milk prices have been increasing. Feed prices went up last year, so dairy farmers raised fewer cows. Yet, the United States has more cheese in storage than any year since record-keeping commenced in 1917.
- The United Kingdom is less than a year from leaving the European Union, and there is no agreement yet between the EU and the UK. If no agreement is reached, the default is for World Trade Organization tariffs to prevail, and these are substantial.
- The UK is a substantial importer of specialty cheese from the Continent, so if prices rise due to tariffs, demand in the UK will fall, which means European producers will be looking for new markets. The U.S. is a prime target.
- Mexico is finalizing a trade agreement with the European Union, and the agreement includes a protection for European geographic indications — a term for products that correspond with a specific region, such as Champagne sparkling wine or Parmesan cheese. By using a grandfather clause in the Mexican/EU agreement, Mexico will protect U.S. cheese producers who use these names that are protected in Europe. But this is supposed to be effectuated through a revised NAFTA accord, and the U.S. cheese producers aren’t persuaded that this will actually happen.
- President Trump has attacked Canada for its dairy price supports. In response to tariffs from the U.S., both Mexico and China have put tariffs on U.S. cheese.
This issue’s cover story on David Gremmels, president of Rogue Creamery, is compelling, partially because David is fascinating, partly because it reveals the complexity of making great cheese, which is engrossing, and partly because the specifics of his story — southern Oregon, organic, a “world’s finest mission,” pears, Syrah grape leaves, etc. — are just so emotive and so rooted in a time and place. These all play into the definition of terroir that goes beyond environmental factors to incorporate the cultural and business eco-system in which a cheese is produced.
This is the time of year when entertaining is on everyone’s mind. Now is when cheese buying blooms. To make the process more difficult, there are new cheeses and choices available at more locations.
The simplest way to make great choices is to visit your favorite cheese market and let the in-house cheese monger decide for you or at least guide you. If you are not allowed to sample each cheese you purchase, just walk away. With a few questions, most mongers will be able to point you in the best direction for your tastes. Include quantity recommendations, pairing suggestions and different varieties that go well together, and you have your own personal consultant.