It seems like just yesterday when COVID-19 was the overwhelming problem of the world. Then a few things happened. First, the vaccines came, severely reducing hospitalization and deaths. Then the Omicron variant became dominant, transmitting easily, but not causing as much in the way of serious illness. There seemed to be a sense that the world had to go on, that we couldn’t keep our children locked up any longer, that we didn’t want to be locked up any longer.
Then, of course, came war in Ukraine. Horrible devastation. Millions of refugees, and it became hard to think we should focus on COVID with problems such as this in the world. And the repercussions grow each day. We already had inflation as we had been spending intensely, and inflation is, literally, defined as too much money chasing too few goods. Add in the war, with sanctions that restrict supply of goods, and inflation will surely boom.
The impact of inflation on high-end goods such as specialty cheese is uncertain. Typically, inflation begets a cycle where prices rise, then wages rise to match and on and on. Inflation, though, destroys the livelihood of people living on a fixed income. In the early 1980s, it took extraordinary efforts under President Ronald Reagan and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker to bring inflation under control when the Federal Funds rate hit 20%. The Federal Funds rate is 0.25% today.
So high-end items such as specialty cheese can suffer as some consumers, say those on fixed incomes, avoid the relatively pricey item. Yet, other things can happen, as well. When restaurant prices are perceived as “crazy,” the inclination might be to cook at home or have dinner parties and whatnot at the house. These eating habit changes open the door for increased trial of specialty cheeses and accoutrements.
Specialty cheese is an indulgence, and in a world so wracked by war, disease, inflation and who knows what next, perhaps a little indulgence is what each of us needs right now. The ingathering of cheese from across Europe is a reminder of the diverse culinary offerings of that extraordinary continent, while the assortment of American specialty cheeses speaks to value produced in the New World. With each nibble, we can find a reminder of the historical journey that brought us to the present moment and pray that history is but a foundation from where, when current crises pass, we shall rise again.