by April Fulton, The Salt at NPR Food (6/12/14)
The Food and Drug Administration official who recently suggested that the wooden boards used to age cheese for centuries may be unsafe probably did not expect to start a cheese storm. But she did.
In a letter to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, FDA dairy safety chief Monica Metz wrote:
"The porous structure of wood enables it to absorb and retain bacteria, therefore bacteria generally colonize not only the surface but also the inside layers of wood. The shelves or boards used for aging make direct contact with finished products; hence they could be a potential source of pathogenic microorganisms in the finished products."
Distress rippled through the U.S. cheese-making community, as cheesemakers took this to mean they'd have to do away with the boards they count on to hold moisture, allow the cheese to breathe and improve its flavor profile. For some, that might mean the end of their business altogether.
Many of the best American cheeses (and by American, we don't mean those plastic-wrapped singles) are aged on wooden boards. These include Cabot's Clothbound Cheddar and Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a gruyere-like raw-milk cheese. Plenty of European cheese artisans use them, too — to make delicious delicacies like Comte and Reblochon.