At the 2019 World Cheese Awards in Bergamo, Italy, something happened that had never happened before. More than 3,800 entries from 42 countries competed, and a Blue cheese that was produced by Rogue Creamery in Oregon, an American-produced cheese, Rogue River Blue, was named best in the world.
It was a moment reminiscent of the famous “Judgement of Paris,” when Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, put together a blind wine tasting in 1976. The judges were all French, and Spurrier sold only French wine and thought there was no chance for American vintages to win. In the Chardonnay competition, the California Chateau Montelena beat out all the Burgundy Chardonnays, and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars from California beat out all the Bordeaux producers among the Reds.
Though a milestone, it was a not a surprise to cheese experts who have been watching the American specialty cheese industry develop over the past 40 years or so. It wasn’t even a surprise to Cheese Connoisseur readers, since we have profiled many times this organic, cave-aged Blue cheese that is wrapped in Syrah grape leaves soaked in pear spirits.
Indeed, executives at the European cheese companies have been aware of the ever-increasing quality of American specialty cheese, even investing in and purchasing American cheesemakers. Indeed, Rouge River Creamery itself was sold in 2018 to a French cheese producer, Savencia Fromage and Dairy, which manages a unique global portfolio of cheese and dairy brands.
American cheese producers would like to win business due to the quality of their cheeses, but it may be the case that American cheeses pick up market share due to high tariffs already placed, or which may eventually be placed, on European cheeses. Basically, trade in specialty cheese has become collateral damage in a war between Boeing and Airbus related to government subsidies of the airplane giants.
It is a shame, as each cheese, from each place, has its own unique story to tell. If tariffs cut off trade, they also shut off the learning and communication that come from understanding other cultures, other people and other places.
The world is filled with dramatic turmoil—Impeachment in the U.S., Brexit in the UK and Europe, uprising in Hong Kong and Chile and more. Let us hope that, in 2020, the turmoil will resolve itself, revealing new and better ways for us to share and explore new ideas and, of course, new tastes and flavors in our most favorite cheeses.