Say Cheese


David Ryan

David Ryan is a boat builder and USCG licensed master captain. He is the owner of Sailing Montauk and skipper of Montauk''s charter sailing catamaran MON TIKI You can follow him on Twitter @CaptDavidRyan

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50 Responses

  1. Avatar Jacob says:

    Assuming arguendo that wood-aged cheese is now in fact verboten, I think the most outrageous element of the whole story is that the FDA would bother to assign any resources or manpower to such a non-issue when there are, in fact, e. coli and salmonella contamination reported at least monthly. Cheese has been aged on wood boards for generations, and on the whole, the aging process destroys most of the microscopic nasties. Why now? Who benefits? Or is this just a case of an agency needing to take some action, any action, to expand its purview or justify its level of funding?

    TL;DR; if this is for real (and Patrick’s post yesterday casts some doubt) this was a heavy handed solution in search of a problem.Report

    • Avatar David Ryan in reply to Jacob says:

      Move to strike as non-responsive.Report

      • Avatar Jacob in reply to David Ryan says:


        No, I would not eat artisinal cheese of any sort from China, given that the peoples of the Pacific Rim do not have an extensive history of cheesemaking or pastoralism in general. It’s not so much a quality control issue. I wouldn’t I go out of my way to purchase, say, rice grown in France or Italy, either.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to David Ryan says:

        If so, @jacob , you’d miss out on a popular, versatile, and potentially delicious dish called risotto made with a particular rice bred and traditionally grown in the north of Italy.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to David Ryan says:

        The peoples of the Pacific Rim don’t have an extensive history of manufacturing electronics either, but just try to buy a cellphone manufactured anywhere else.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to David Ryan says:

        My in-laws went back to Vietnam for a while last year and brought back a bottle of locally made grape wine. It was helpfully labeled “grape wine” and has a hazy red-amber coloration and quite a bit of interesting stuff floating around in it. For all of the interesting contributions the French made to Vietnamese cuisine, I think that growing grapes and turning them into wine may not have been one of them.

        Some things catch and some things don’t. I’m told that the inedible soup that Californians call “Chicago style pizza” is actually a food product that is quite good in Chicago.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jacob says:

      If it saves just one life, it’s worth it.Report

  2. Avatar Damon says:

    So before I get to my answer, I’ll comment on some of the assumptions in the OP…

    “Simply saying “but people have always done it this way and no one ever got hurt” is no more effective an argument than saying “but people have been lashing catamarans together forever, and no one ever got hurt.”” True enough, but the argument should be, how many people, if any, died as a result of tainted cheese that could, or reasonably could, be directly linked to wooden boards? If the answer to that question is postive, you ask about the cost of the regulation and compliance vs the increased saftey. So, if a few people died or were harmed by a causal link with wood boards, it doens’t necessarily mean that everyone should stop using them…

    “Would you feed a food product labeled “Artisanal Wood-board Aged Cheese” to your children if said food product was also label “Imported from China”? Please explain your answer.” No I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be buying artisanal cheese from China anyway. 1) is it really artisanal or is it just on the label? I’d rather buy quality cheese from people/companies I know vs trying something like this. Now, maybe China has a great long history of cheesemaking and they are selling real artisanal cheese made from some animal i’m not familiar with. That might change my answers…Report

  3. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Would I take my kids out on a charter that didn’t have the appropriate Coast Guard certifications? Yeah, I probably would. But I’d check to see if there were enough life jackets.Report

    • Avatar David Ryan in reply to James Hanley says:

      After you check the PFD count I’m sure you’ll to check to see that the vessel has appropriate fire-fighting systems, de-watering systems, navigation, communication & emergency signaling systems, give it a good going over for general soundness & maintenance, and check to see that it’s likely to stay intact and upright in the conditions it’s likely to encounter in the routes it plies. All children should be so lucky as to have a father so interested in their well-being!Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to David Ryan says:

        Nope, I won’t. And if you think my parenting is atrocious because of it, I can live with that.Report

      • Avatar David Ryan in reply to David Ryan says:

        See here’s the thing, James — where shipboard safety is concerned PDFs are the last line of defense. If a passenger is using a PFD that means the are in the water, subject to wind, waves, hypothermia, and are harder to find and rescue than if they are still on the vessel. If you’re not going to bother checking the boat’s fitness for service and ability to fight onboard fires or dewater in case of a hull breach, checking the PFD count isn’t doing very much at all to ensure your children’s safety. You’re basic saying “If anything goes wrong, we’re going to hope we get to the PFDs in time and jump overboard.”

        I don’t think you parenting is atrocious, I think you’re responding out of pique, and out a political/philosophical attachment, without any real understanding of the maritime safety issues.

        And this, by the way, is exactly what is allowed under the Coast Guard’s 6-pack designation. If you want to kill you children the Coast Guard doesn’t much care. It’s when the numbers get to the headline making level that the real regs kick in.Report

      • Avatar Angela in reply to David Ryan says:

        It could be more like the “no brown M&Ms” in the Van Halen contract.
        It’s easy to check the number of PFDs. That’s a quick marker for a well-run, safe operation.Report

  4. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I’d eat the cheese. Although I’m aware that a) China has little tradition with cheese making, and b) a notorious history of manufacturers who cut corners and somehow get away with it, experience also informs that c) Chinese are neither intellectually dim nor uneducable and there are similarities between cheese and tofu, and d) some manufacturers there produce products of reasonable or better quality. Besides, what’s a little listeria amongst trading partners?Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I don’t know if I’d do China, but I’d definitely do Japan, despite a similar historical lack of cheesemaking tradition there. I read a piece a while back (….actually, maybe it was a Linky Friday item?) about Japanese people who get into various “Western” things, initially as hobbies (hamburgers, denim, bourbon, etc.), and then apply crazy detailed engineering and science to produce the best possible iteration of that obsession.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I very much suspect that a lot of Western perceptions about Chinese manufacturers cutting corners is due to base rate fallacy.

      Why do you never hear about Lithuanian-made toys recalled because of lead paint, French-made laptops because the batteries occasionally catch fire, or US-made toothpaste because it has ethylene glycol in it? It’s not because those countries’ manufacturers are far more conscientious about safety, it’s because those countries export practically zero of those types of goods.

      There’s also fundamental attribution error – when US-made sausages are recalled due to salmonella, we don’t attribute it to Americans fundamentally not getting safe food handling, or having a culture of ignoring safety to make a buck; we attribute it to that particular plant having a problem. But Chinese people are “different” so we attribute manufacturing problems in China to the Chineseness of the manufacturers.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to dragonfrog says:

        I do attribute most salmonella to Americans fundamentally not caring about food safety. the inspections have been cut really harshly, and that has a lot to do with the problems. Well, that and the copious amounts of rat in peanut butter.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to dragonfrog says:

        1,000 +1s, @dragonfrog.Report

      • Avatar David Ryan in reply to dragonfrog says:

        Chinese are, intrinsically, corner cutters on toothpaste (and cheese!), Harvard students are, intrinsically, cheaters on take-home tests, and boat operators are, intrinsically, duplicitous on PFD counts. It’s just the way these people are.Report

      • Avatar Plinko in reply to dragonfrog says:

        Speaking only from my experience here, you’re sorta right here but mostly wrong.

        Outsourcing itself is a problem for things like food safety. There’s a principal-agent problem multiplied by several agents.
        That is a “China” issue only inasmuch as Chinese companies export little but mostly sell to US brands and companies who import stuff to the US to sell. This isn’t any more true to China than it is Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam or any other common outsourcing destination.

        Then you have the fact that pretty much any industrializing nation simply hasn’t yet had the luxury of building up a culture of corporate legal/moral accountability/liability in any manner remotely like what you have in the “Western” world. It’s coming along in China (and elsewhere), but there’s a long, long way to go.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to dragonfrog says:

        you mean a culture where innocent mexicans are murdered in “industrial accidents” for being troublemakers?
        That “Western” culture?
        I’m pretty sure that culture exists other places too…
        (and other places bribe the cops just as quick).Report

      • Avatar Plinko in reply to dragonfrog says:

        Kim, good to see you haven’t changed at all.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to dragonfrog says:

        I do know people who own corporations (and portions thereof).
        I don’t consider them decent people (to be fair, they don’t either).

        That said: it’s a big world. Corporations in general (unlike the oligopoly that is Detroit — yes I mean cars) try every decent business plan. Or at least most of ’em.

        Some of them are Fantastic. Others win praise, and then fail horribly (Walmart/Polartec’s Malden Mills). Some just suck donkey balls, and you don’t hear about them pretty much ever.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to dragonfrog says:

        the oligopoly that is Detroit — yes I mean cars

        That’s almost as outdated as Pittsburgh being a smog-suffused steel town.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to dragonfrog says:

        Makes me wonder what you would say about the strategic resources and deficits of all the major auto companies (including those outside the USA). Obvs Detroit has high pension obligations (are they high compared to Japanese companies)? But they’ve managed to cut (hopefully) their projected payouts on healthcare…Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to dragonfrog says:

        I was just pointing out your error. Your question has naught to do with my correction.Report

      • Avatar Plinko in reply to dragonfrog says:

        I am guessing you know fewer owners of manufacturing operations in China or Bangladesh than I do.

        You probably would not at all be surprised at how much the “Western” culture of suing people who cause you harm has influenced how the big wigs behave, but it’s hard to tell from your subject-changing responses!Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to dragonfrog says:

        yeah, that’s certainly true.
        It’s probable that in most places, there are good businessmen, and bad businessmen. Sometimes the bad businessmen are really, really bad.

        A point to both you and James — the more exposure a business gets to outside concerns (“western morality” — but just “not here” in general), I’d figure the less likely it is to victimize its workers. (don’t have jack to back this up, other than an layman’s awareness of how the underground economy works here and other places).Report

  5. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I would not simply because I know way too much about China’s lax regulatory system. Food poisoning and fake drugs are very common problems in China.

    The regulation of food by the government is a good thing because bakers, butchers, and others have a long history of adulteration when not watched.Report

    • Avatar Lyle in reply to LeeEsq says:

      This raises an interesting thought experiment: Assume you could beam food items from a 1900 general store to today unchanged, would you eat them, such as crackers from a cracker barrel, cheese etc? (I avoid things that spoil, as spoiled milk which it appears killed President Zach Taylor).Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Lyle says:

        I expect they’d be bland, but otherwise edible assuming that your science-fiction transporter would convey them from the past to today’s plate in a state that would have been considered wholesome back then.

        If we were to have stumbled across a cache of cheese that was made in 1900 today, it would have aged 114 years and no, I probably wouldn’t trust that all the aging between then and now would have produced anything I wanted in my body.

        (And yet I’d eat the Chinese cheese.)Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Lyle says:

        I would, because I’d be interested in how differently they did or did not taste compared to similar items we eat today.* I’d take the risk in part because Taylor might have lived if modern medicine had been available to him.

        (It may be relevant to judging my answer that I was one of those who happily ate termites right out of the nest when on a jungle tour.)Report

  6. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Thanks to this thread, I know a few more people who aren’t going to go to prom this year.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Kolohe says:

      Among the things people in China do complain about very vocally are (1) air pollution and (2) food quality and safety. If the government doesn’t want people to talk about it, they are doing a terrible job.Report

  7. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Whenever I see a food labelled “artisanal”, I think “Get over yourself.”Report

  8. Avatar LWA says:

    In debates about regulation versus freedom of choice, its oftentimes overlooked that consumers, businesses, producers, and workers, are all the same people, at different times.

    I used to do due diligence analysis for real estate developers who were about to purchase a building- sort of a more elaborate version of the simple home inspections banks insist you do when you buy a house.

    For a large complex transaction, the analysis itself may run thousands of dollars and be a hundred pages long. In this case, the investor is a consumer, not terribly different than someone looking at a lump of cheese at the store, wondering if it is good, bad, or dangerous.

    For the investor, regulations like building codes, those onerous thousand page binders, are a blessing- they minimize his risk. Without them, a due diligence analysis would be many times more expensive, longer to produce, and never be able to provide an acceptable level of risk. The market would respond pretty much like it did before codes existed, which is to be a world of disaster/jackpot, where you either reaped a profit, or bankruptcy, with unknown pitfalls everywhere. Little wonder that building codes were promoted and developed by insurance companies, developers, more so than busybody nanny state regulators.

    Would I buy the cheese? I honestly don’t know jack about cheese, and am very glad there exists something like the FDA which does.Report

  9. Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

    They were just getting passed around to meet the count requirements.

    Yowza. I had a similar conversation with the building inspector who was testing my new gas line for leaks. The procedure is pretty simple: the plumber pressurizes the line and leaves a pressure gauge on it and the inspector comes by and checks it to see that it’s not ticking downward due to a slow leak. Afterward, my inspector slowly opened the valve and listened carefully while the air came out. I asked him why and he said, “Some guys plug the pipe a foot or two away from the gauge and then fill just that section with air. That hides any leaks later down the line.”

    I suppose there’s a cost/benefit estimate to be done for every safety shortcut, but some of them really don’t seem to be worth it.Report

  10. Avatar Kazzy says:

    As @dragonfrog discusses above, I wouldn’t not buy cheese simply because it had “Made in China” on the label. I’d want to know a bit more about the specifics of China’s cheese making industry before making a determination.

    Relatively recently, two different people told me they refuse to eat seafood that comes from China. One cited specific concerns about the Chinese fishing industry. The other cited vague concerns amounting to, “Well, you know how they do things over there.” I found one of these to be a far more legitimate approach to fish procurement. I’d hope to emulate that way of thinking about such questions.Report