Jonathan White, who makes cheese at Bobolink dairy in New Jersey, recently informed his newsletter subscribers that "the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets has suddenly decreed that cheeses can no longer be cut and wrapped at farmer’s market stands … we have no choice but to comply with the law … the cheeses will now be secreted away in paper wrappers inside coolers." Wait, what? So vendors can’t cut cheese to order anymore? When we rang up White to get more of the story, he explained that he’s been slicing curds to order for "22 years, and so far nobody has died."
He outlined his previous sanitation procedure: It involved a cooler of hot water used to soak and rinse the knife, which was then hit with sanitizing spray. But, he says, those measures just won’t, um, cut it any longer: "You need a three-basin sink in order to comply with [the guidelines]," White said. (Since so many people have portable sinks they carry around?) He also tells us that another cheese stand recently had its wares confiscated and that he "can’t afford to have a day’s production disposed of."
The trouble seems to be that Greenmarket stands are governed in the same way a grocery store or deli would be. As White explained, "Slicing cheese at a farmers’ market, under [the Agriculture Department’s] way of thinking, is food processing." June Russell, the manager for farm inspection and strategic development at city Greenmarkets, confirmed this: "Agriculture and Markets are now enforcing 20C — the criteria groceries and delis are under," she said. But isn’t that kind of unfair, considering the latter have running water and whatnot? "It’s an ongoing conversation; we’ll be in it for some years to come," she said. (Despite multiple attempts to initiate such a conversation with the Department of Ag ourselves, we never received the information we requested.)
The other day White sent another e-mail, announcing a fire sale on Cheddar: "Being new to this pre-cut business, we of course over-cut this week," he began, directing subscribers to his website, which offered "top quality pre-cut overstock" for $16 a pound. Better get it while you can! White assures us he doesn’t intend on making a habit out of overcutting: "We’ll get it right someday!"