Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Nate Update: The Beef About Roquefort

I'm an evening student in the Classic Pastry Arts program here at FCI. Food and writing are two of my passions in life, and I'm excited to bring you The Nate Update, snapshots from my life in and out of class.

In case you haven’t heard by now, there’s a feud that has been brewing for a decade regarding the banned importation of hormone-treated beef into the European Union and Roquefort, the much loved French-made blue cheese that has become the subject of a 300% US tariff set to go into effect on April 23. This sharp increase from the already hefty 100% tariff imposed by the Clinton administration in 1999 will lead to eye-popping prices on some brands of Roquefort that could rise to over $100 a pound and will likely result in a sharp decline in both importation and consumption of the sheep’s milk cheese.

The loss of revenue to the US beef market because of the EU ban totaled an estimated $116.8 million annually, and to make up for the loss the US trade office revised the list of taxed EU goods. Yet strangely, the only thing that was altered was the import tax on Roquefort, which according to the trade office was singled out amongst a host of other imported foods because of its consistently high sales despite the 1999 increase.

The April 23 deadline is actually an extension of the original date of March 23, which was set just days before Bush left office in January. According to the Obama administration, this added 30-day grace period will allow one last chance to open up talks and to hopefully resolve this long-stewing situation before the tripled tariff is officially imposed.

I asked several people, including a few French chefs around The FCI campus, to give their thoughts on the situation, and here’s what they had to say:

Henry Pillsbury, an American expatriate living in Paris for over forty years, thinks there is more to it than just retaliation by the US and suspects that, “America has moral / hygiene problems with the non-pasteurization of French cheeses (Roquefort is notably not pasteurized). So, the 300% levy on Roquefort probably strikes some of our lawmakers as a moral, healthy punch in the right snoot.”

This morning I made my way through hectic FCI kitchens filled with students busily preparing for the lunch rush to get brief impressions from a trio of chefs at FCI:

Chef Henri Viain: “I have a feeling that the EU will just end up taxing or banning something else in retaliation once it passes.”

Chef Pascal Béric: “I think the entire thing is ridiculous, particularly with the economic climate being in such a depressed state.”

Chef Hervé Malivert: “Perhaps the EU should consider banning only hormone-treated beef and accept beef that is organically produced in order to reach a compromise. My thought on the increased import tax is that the US should ban the cheese altogether instead of collecting a profit from the Roquefort that comes into the country.”

I had an exchange this morning on the Roquefort matter with Liz Thorpe, Vice President of Murray’s Cheese, New York’s oldest and most famous cheese shop, who said, "In general we think the imposition of a 300% tariff on some of Europe's most traditional foods is a grave setback for anyone in the US who wants to eat real food. That our government is suggesting this because the EU rejects our beef cattle, with their antibiotics and hormones, makes it that much worse. For us at Murray's Cheese, as an importer, retailer and wholesaler, such a tax necessitates a prohibitively expensive retail price (around $60/pound) if we want to preserve realistic margins. So, with great regret, we will cease importing Roquefort on April 23 should the tariff be official. In the meantime, we've gotten a big order for the week of April 14 and hope it will tide our customers over for a few weeks, at the very least!" Ms. Thorpe has a candid and informative take on the issue that you can read on Murray’s Blog.

Now it’s your turn: What are your thoughts on the unfolding Roquefort drama?

1 comment:

Camoduk said...

Nate,

Retaliation...hog wash! Move on with doing what you were born to do...make great food1 Leave this stuff to the politicians and consider your next trip to Europe as a treat to get some of the best cheese in the world.Get some Oregon/Washington or Calif. Blue's and make that incredible food you can do. Chef's create in the environment they are presented with. It's, agreeably a bum deal for the consumer [you and then me] but it's out of our control.
-Camoduk