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MADISON, Wis. - A cheese with a cult following is a casualty of possible rule changes by the Food and Drug Administration.
Dodgeville cheesemaker Andy Hatch said he will stop making Rush Creek Reserve, a creamy cheese that Uplands Cheese makes only in the fall and winter. It is a raw milk cheese aged 60 days on wood boards.
"The decision not to make Rush Creek this year was not an easy one," Hatch said. "It was made over the last few months as the regulatory climate surrounding traditional cheeses has become cloudier and less clear."
Hatch said he's concerned that the FDA is considering rule changes on how long raw milk cheese can be aged. Questions were raised by the agency recently about using wood boards to age cheese, and Hatch said that uncertainty led him to a precautionary business decision.
"To produce milk and tie it up in cheese is a financial risk and when you don't know how that cheese is going to be treated by regulators it is taking a big risk," Hatch said.
Food safety and regulation expert Marianne Smukowski with the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research said cheesemakers across the country with the American Cheese Society met last week with the FDA in California in hopes of clearing up issues. But she said other raw milk cheesemakers have also pulled production.
"It's obvious we need to talk to the FDA again, and see what we can do to have better communication and what we need to do," Smukowski said.
Hatch said he's already been getting feedback on not producing Rush Creek, and hopes his decision isn't permanent.
"I feel a little bit like the Grinch," Hatch said. "I'm getting emails from people telling me they will cancel Christmas. Wait for next year, we hope it will be back."
Because Uplands Cheese uses all its own milk to make its cheese, they plan to simply sell off the fall and winter milk to another cheesemaker.
It's unclear when the FDA plans to issue its new rules on raw milk cheeses, but Hatch said he won't consider making Rush Creek cheese again until they do.
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