Understanding the cost of artisan cheese

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Photo by Flickr user Neeta Lind, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

You want to support local specialty cheesemakers and enjoy their delicious products, but sometimes sticker shock sets in when you look at the price tag. Low price often means cheap product, but we’re not talking about Kraft Singles here. Instead, why do many quality European specialty cheeses seem more affordable than those made so much closer to home? In an online “Monger Tip” column for Culture magazine, cheesemonger Justin Trosclair explains:

Though there are a handful of reasons that European specialty cheese has us beat on the bottom line, it seems mostly to come down to the simple matter of production scale. That Brie de Meaux sitting in the case next to the Green Hill from Thomasville, Georgia was probably made in a significantly larger facility, with much more high-tech equipment, and therefore much more efficiently and more cost effectively. I spoke with Mateo Kehler of Cellars at Jasper Hill on this subject and he offered that it’s almost unfair to compare the price of two such cheeses, considering that one was produced in a factory and one was produced in relatively small quantity on a family farm. It’s just not comparing apples to apples. What makes this particularly confusing from a consumer standpoint is that these cheeses are sold right next to each other, both under the “specialty” cheese umbrella. In a sense, they are both “specialty” cheeses, but they are not both small-batch artisan cheeses. To further confuse the matter, many European factory cheese makers are very skilled at producing really tasty cheeses on a large scale. So it’s not often obvious to the consumer, from a flavor perspective, that they are eating factory cheese.

For more of the reasons that domestic artisan cheesemakers have difficulty competing on price relative to large-scale European producers, check out the full post here.

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