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Cheese gift trends incorporate local flavor, decadent splurges

December 8, 2017

By Rena Archwamety

MADISON, Wis. — Boxes or baskets of cheese, meats, jellies and crackers are perennial favorites when it comes to holiday giving. Lately, cheese gifts have expanded beyond nut-covered logs and shelf-stable spreads into premium artisan cuts with gourmet pairings.

“Retailers have figured out how to pack it so it arrives in good shape, and people are more open to shipping food,” says Ken Monteleone, owner of Madison, Wisconsin-based cheese shop Fromagination. “When we first offered gift baskets, the highest price point was $75. Now, as people look for gifts for the office or an entire family, we have a $500 gift basket that we have no problem selling.”

Jasper Hill Farm, Greensboro, Vermont, ships its cheese gift collections anywhere in the United States — even to Alaska and Hawaii.

“We have some nice interest in volume giving and corporate gifts. We do discounts starting at 10 packages,” says Zoe Brickley, director of marketing, Jasper Hill Farm. “Some are ordered by civilians and some by companies treating employees and clients.”

• Exclusive offerings

Jasper Hill also makes some seasonal offerings available in advance.

“Winnimere is available now, but not to distributors until January. Mini batches were introduced around Thanksgiving and the holidays for mail-order customers,” Brickley says of Jasper Hill’s raw milk washed-rind soft cheese that is wrapped and aged in spruce bark.

Jasper Hill recently introduced “The Woodsman,” a gift box that contains one wheel of Winnimere and one wheel of its other bark-wrapped cheese, Harbison. It also includes items from other Vermont artisans: maple glazed pecans from Squirrel Stash Nuts, Red Barn Brewers Lavash Crackers and a wooden spreader made by Rockledge Farms.

Jasper Hill also introduced two other new gift boxes this month. “The Brewers Flight” includes three different variations of its Willoughby cheese: one in its original salt brine wash, one washed in local brewery Alchemist’s Wild Child Sour Ale, and one washed in Alchemist’s Petit Mutant Brett Ale.

The other new box, “The Brunch Bunch,” includes the Brie-inspired Moses Sleeper and Landaff Welsh-style Cheddar paired with Jasper Hill Farm Raw Vermont Honey, bacon from Jasper Hill Farm’s own whey-fed pork, Bien Fait Lemon Berry Teacake and optional Vermont Maple Syrup from Ledgenear Farm. The box is marketed as “everything you need to make a great brunch, except the eggs.”

“We imagined the challenges of entertaining,” Brickley says of what inspired this box. “Christmas dinner is one thing, but they there are a bunch of people hanging out the next morning.”

Brickley says she enjoys seeing Jasper Hill’s cheeses used in different gift collections offered by retailers, and Jasper Hill offers just its own cheeses in its gift boxes so it doesn’t compete with other retailers’ gift sets.

“We’re not like Murray’s or DiBruno’s where we have collections from all over the world. We have 12 cheeses to work with, and we try to offer products made in Vermont or around New England as much as possible,” Brickley says.

Monroe, Wisconsin-based Emmi Roth recently announced a new holiday gift set, an exclusive collection of some of its award-winning cheeses along with other Wisconsin-made accompaniments. The gift set includes Roth Sriracha Gouda, the alpine-style Roth’s Private Reserve, Roth GranQueso and 2016 World Champion Cheese Roth Grand Cru Surchoix. It also includes locally-made Quince & Apple preserves, Potter’s Crackers and Treat Bake Shop’s spiced pecans.

“An edible gift like cheese is always appropriate no matter who you are shopping for this holiday season,” says Heather Engwall, director of marketing, Emmi Roth. “From spicy Roth Sriracha Gouda to sweet GranQueso, this special holiday collection is packed with cheeses that are full of flavor and perfect for holiday entertaining.”

Emmi Roth’s gift set was created in partnership with Fromagination, which helped select the cheeses and other items. Fromagination also will package and ship the collection and offer it in its shop and online.

“We love collaborations with cheesemakers. It really gives us the opportunity to do some creative things with their team and showcase it to our customers,” Monteleone says.

Fromagination has collaborated with other Wisconsin cheesemakers on gift sets, as well as with Dodgeville, Wisconsin-based clothing retailer Land’s End. For the past two years, Land’s End has offered two cheese gift collections in its catalog, both packaged and shipped by Fromagination. Its “Best of Wisconsin Cheese Gift Set” includes four Wisconsin cheeses along with other Wisconsin-made foods, and its “Pleasant Ridge Reserve Cheese Gift” features local accompaniments with the award-winning cheese made by Dodgeville-based Uplands Cheese.

• Flavors of the season

Two of the cheeses Fromagination helped select for the Emmi Roth set — GranQueso rubbed with cinnamon and paprika, and Sriracha Gouda made with Sriracha chili sauce and rubbed with crushed red peppers — incorporate flavors, a trend Monteleone has seen rise over the past several years.

“When we first opened our shop 10 years ago, flavored cheeses were looked down on and seen as more commodity,” Monteleone says. “But artists like Roth and Sartori have upped their game, with food scientists working on pairings. Sriracha Gouda is really well thought out. It can be used in tacos, omelettes or other dishes.”

Flavors are featured in several gift baskets for the holidays. Fromagination partners with Marieke Gouda, Thorp, Wisconsin, on two gift sets that incorporate plain, smoked and foenugreek varieties accompanied by B&E’s Trees Wisconsin Maple Syrup.

Fromagination has created an entire page on its website dedicated to truffles, which it stocks up on this time of year.

“Truffles are big for the holiday season, and more and more companies are including truffles in their cheese,” Monteleone says. “When we opened 10 years ago, we saw it more in European cheeses from France or Italy. But this past year, we’ve seen more and more Wisconsin producers adding it.”

In addition to truffles in cheese, Fromagination features other truffle-infused specialties such as truffle salt, truffle mayonnaise, truffle oil and even a truffle honey.

“Truffles are one of those holiday things people look forward to as fall and winter come around,” Monteleone says.

Gourmet and local chocolate is another hot item during the holidays, and it also pairs well with certain cheeses.

“One new trend we’re excited about is pairing cheese with dark chocolate,” Brickley says. “For the holidays, we like Nutty Steph’s Toffee Coffee Dark Chocolate bar. Our Blue cheese has toffee notes, so when we pair them, they really jump out.”

This season also is a time when people will splurge a little more on cheese, which makes more labor-intensive cheeses like Winnimere popular, Brickley notes.

“Holidays are a time when people are a little less price sensitive,” she says. “We find people are really interested in soft, gooey cheeses, and we’ve become known for that. People want a really gooey, decadent texture. Usually we include at least two soft cheeses in gift boxes.”

In all its boxes, Jasper Hill tries to create “complete spreads” where people can open the box, put the cheeses and accompaniments on a cheese board and be done.

“We gear them around both gift giving and entertaining,” Brickley says. “We try to think of specific occasions.”


Cheese production increases 1.7 percent over year earlier

December 8, 2017

WASHINGTON — Total U.S. cheese production, excluding cottage cheese, was 1.07 billion pounds in October, 1.7 percent above October 2016’s 1.05 billion pounds, according to data released this week by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). (All figures are rounded. Please see CMN’s Dairy Production chart.)

October production was 5.2 percent above September 2017’s 1.01 billion pounds; when adjusted for the length of the months, October production was 1.8 percent higher than September production on an average daily basis.

Mozzarella continues to be the most-produced cheese in the nation with 348.0 million pounds produced in October, 0.9 percent above production in October 2016. Total Italian-type production, of which Mozzarella is the largest component, was 455.2 million pounds in October, up 1.8 percent from a year earlier.

Cheddar production totaled 294.3 million pounds in October, 4.1 percent above October 2016. Total American-type cheese production, of which Cheddar is the largest component, was 417.6 million pounds, 4.0 percent above October 2016.

The nation’s leading cheese producer, Wisconsin, experienced a 2.8-percent increase in production in the October-to-October comparison, climbing to 287.5 million pounds. California followed with 212.0 million pounds, down 0.7 percent from its production a year earlier.

Idaho was third in cheese production with 85.0 million pounds in October, 1.3 percent more than its production a year earlier.
Rounding out the top five cheese-producing states in October were New York with 76.6 million pounds, down 0.1 percent from a year earlier; and New Mexico with 64.1 million pounds, up 1.7 percent from a year earlier.

NASS reports total U.S. butter production in October was 143.5 million pounds, up 2.6 percent from October 2016’s 139.8 million pounds and up 6.8 percent from September 2017’s 134.4 million pounds. When adjusted for the length of the months, October butter production was up 3.3 percent on an average daily basis.

California led the nation’s butter production with 43.8 million pounds in October, NASS reports, up 3.6 percent from its production a year earlier.


BelGioioso marks opening of new manufacturing plant

December 8, 2017

DENMARK, Wis. — BelGioioso Cheese Inc., a family owned and operated company specializing in artisanal Italian cheesemaking, joined Walmart representatives, local and state officials and members of the Denmark and Green Bay business communities to celebrate the opening of a new 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Denmark, Wisconsin, this week.

BelGioioso anticipates the new plant will create 50 new jobs locally. In addition, the company celebrated being a part of Walmart’s 10-year commitment to buy an additional $250 billion in products supporting American jobs by 2023.

“We continue to expand our presence in Wisconsin and have created over 700 local jobs since we began in 1979,” says Errico Auricchio, president and founder, BelGioioso Cheese. “We started with only one cheese, Provolone, and now have a full line of quality Italian cheeses. Walmart has been committed to BelGioioso for many years, and we are honored to have been chosen to help highlight their American Jobs Initiative for the state of Wisconsin.”

BelGioioso Cheese shares Walmart’s commitment to U.S. manufacturing and jobs, Aurrichio notes. The company sources their milk from local Wisconsin farms, less than 30 miles away from each plant. They pay premiums to their farmers for the richness of the protein and butterfat in the milk.

“Our customers have told us that second to price, where products are made influences their purchase decisions,” says Cindi Marsiglio, Walmart’s vice president of U.S. manufacturing. “We are focused on buying great quality products that create jobs in communities across the U.S. It makes sense for our customers, our communities and our company.”

Based on data from Boston Consulting Group, it’s estimated that 1 million new U.S. jobs will be created through Walmart’s initiative, including direct manufacturing job growth of approximately 250,000, and indirect job growth of approximately 750,000 in the support and service sectors.


Lawsuit dismissed over Dannon
‘all natural’ claim

December 8, 2017

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — A judge has granted Dannon’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging shoppers were misled by its “all natural” claims on dairy products from cows that may have eaten genetically-modified (GM) feed.

In a complaint against Dannon filed in New York late last year, plaintiff Polly Podpeskar alleged that
reasonable consumers would not expect yogurts labeled “all natural” to use milk from cows likely fed a diet containing genetically-engineered soy or corn.

In April 2017, Dannon filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative a motion to stay the case pending relevant FDA regulations. (See “Dannon Co. tells court that case questioning ‘natural’ claim should be dismissed or stayed” in the May 5, 2017, issue of Cheese Market News.)

The matter was transferred to District Judge Katherine B. Forrest in September, who says the court finds that plaintiff fails to state a plausible claim to relief. Accordingly, the court is granting Dannon’s motion for dismissal.

Dannon, now part of Danone Wave, says it is pleased with the dismissal of the complaint.


Guggisberg Cheese renovates to meet award-driven demand

By Kate Sander

MILLERSBURG, Ohio — With all of the accolades and attention it’s received over the last several years, it only makes sense that Guggisberg Cheese would need to expand.

In the last three years alone, Premium Swiss made by Guggisberg Cheese has won first in its class each year at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest or the World Championship Cheese Contest (the contests are in alternate years). Not only that, but in 2015, Swiss made by Guggisberg Cheese beat out all other first place class winners to be named the overall U.S. grand champion cheese. In addition, the company has won several awards at the World Dairy Expo annual competition and in Ohio state competitions.

“It’s a source of pride,” Richard Guggisberg, company president, says of the awards. “It’s shown our commitment to quality and gotten our name out there.”

So expand the company has. As part of an ongoing project that has taken the better part of four years, the Swiss cheesemaker has added about 80,000 square feet of manufacturing capacity at its Sugarcreek, Ohio, plant.

“Because of the national recognition of being selected the grand champion at the 2015 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest and first place in the Swiss category at the 2016 World and 2017 U.S. competition, we have had numerous customers contact us as a potential supplier but have not been in a position to move ahead because our Swiss and Baby Swiss plants were at maximum capacity,” says Ray Kohl, who handles sales for Guggisberg Cheese. “With the recent plant expansion and new equipment, we’re in a position to start supplying new customers and increasing sales.”

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Industry applauds USDA rule expanding school milk options

December 1, 2017

WASHINGTON — USDA in Thursday’s Federal Register published an interim final rule that provides local foodservice professionals more school meal flexibility.

The new School Meal Flexibility Rule makes targeted changes to standards for meals provided under USDA’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs and asks people to share their thoughts on those changes with USDA.

The flexibilities include providing operators the option to offer flavored, lowfat (1 percent fat) milk in child nutrition programs; retaining sodium “Target 1” in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs; and extending state agencies’ option to allow individual school food authorities to include grains that are not whole grain-rich in the weekly menu offered under the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue says the rule reflects USDA’s commitment, made in a May proclamation, to work with program operators, school nutrition professionals, industry and other stakeholders to develop forward-thinking strategies to ensure school nutrition standards are both healthful and practical. (See “Dairy industry applauds plans to expand school milk options” in the May 5, 2017, issue of Cheese Market News.)

“Schools need flexibility in menu planning so they can serve nutritious and appealing meals,” Perdue says. “Based on the feedback we’ve gotten from students, schools and foodservice professionals in local schools across America, it’s clear that many still face challenges incorporating some of the meal pattern requirements. Schools want to offer food that students actually want to eat. It doesn’t do any good to serve nutritious meals if they wind up in the trash can. These flexibilities give schools the local control they need to provide nutritious meals that school children find appetizing.”

This action reflects a key initiative of USDA’s Regulatory Reform Agenda, developed in response to President Trump’s executive order to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens. Other USDA initiatives of this kind will be reflected in the forthcoming Fall 2017 Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, Perdue says.

• Expanded milk options

The interim final rule gives schools the option to serve lowfat (1 percent) flavored milk. Currently, schools are permitted to serve lowfat and nonfat unflavored milk as well as nonfat flavored milk. The rule also would provide this milk flexibility to the Special Milk Program and Child and Adult Care Food Program operators serving children ages 6 and older. States also will be allowed to grant exemptions to schools experiencing hardship in obtaining whole grain-rich products acceptable to students during 2018-2019 school year.

Perdue lauded the efforts of school food professionals in serving healthful, appealing meals and underscored USDA’s commitment to helping them overcome remaining challenges they face in meeting the nutrition standards.

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) applauded Perdue for allowing school districts to offer lowfat (1 percent) flavored milk as part of the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs.

“We appreciate the secretary’s understanding that the regulatory process needed to move quickly so schools may include lowfat favored milk in their menu planning and procurement processes,” says Michael Dykes, president and CEO, IDFA. “(This) action will help reverse declining milk consumption by allowing schools to provide kids with access to a variety of milk options, including the flavored milks they enjoy.”

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO, NMPF, adds that Perdue’s willingness to provide greater flexibility to schools recognizes that a variety of milks and other healthy dairy foods is critically important to improving the nutritional contributions of child nutrition programs in schools.

“The math here is quite simple: More milk consumption equals better nutrition for America’s kids,” Mulhern says.

Earlier this year, Congress passed the fiscal year 2017 omnibus appropriations bill that included provisions to allow schools to offer lowfat flavored milk. In addition, Reps. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Joe Courtney, D-Conn., have introduced legislation, the School Milk Nutrition Act, to expand the ability of schools to offer various milk options. Their ongoing efforts in Congress have led to a greater awareness of the milk shortfall challenge in schools that today’s USDA action begins to address, IDFA and NMPF say.

In a joint letter in June, IDFA and NMPF urged Perdue to quickly finalize plans for lowfat flavored milk’s return to school menus for the 2018-2019 school year.

The publication of the interim final rule will allow school districts to solicit bids for lowfat flavored milk next spring before the 2018-19 school year begins, giving milk processors time to formulate and produce a lowfat flavored milk that meets the specifications of a particular school district, IDFA and NMPF note.

• Sodium levels

The rule also includes flexibilities for sodium levels in school meals.

Perdue says schools and industry need more time to reduce sodium levels in school meals, so instead of further restricting sodium levels for the 2018-2019 school year, schools that meet the current “Target 1” limit will be considered compliant with USDA’s sodium requirements.

FDA in June 2016 released draft guidance that provided voluntary sodium reduction targets for cheese, butter and other food products. The guidance included both short-term (2-year) and long-term (10-year) targets for sodium reduction.

The agency accepted comments on the draft short-term sodium reduction guidance through Oct. 17, 2016, and on the draft long-term guidance through Dec. 2, 2016.

The draft sodium reduction guidance came under considerable criticism from the dairy industry, with IDFA, NMPF and the American Cheese Society all calling on FDA to remove the entire cheese category from any sodium reduction targets, goals or guidance.

Currently, USDA anticipates retaining Target 1 in the final rule through at least the end of the 2020-2021 school year to provide schools more time to procure and introduce lower sodium food products, allow the food industry more time for product development and reformulation, and give students more time to adjust to school meals with lower sodium content.

In addition, USDA anticipates that the sodium requirement will continue to be re-evaluated for consistency with the Dietary Guidelines, which are updated every five years, and in response to Congressional action, as appropriate. To help inform the final rule, USDA seeks public comments on the long-term availability of this flexibility and its impact on the sodium reduction timeline established in 2012 and, specifically, the impact on sodium Target 2.

Margo G. Wootan, vice president for nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), criticized the interim final rule, saying “virtually 100 percent of schools” already are complying with the final nutrition standards, including the first phase of sodium reduction.

“USDA should not be allowing dangerously high levels of salt in school meals, which may currently have two-thirds of a day’s sodium, or 1,420 milligrams, in a single high school lunch,” Wootan says. “Nine out of 10 school-aged children are eating too much salt, which is why reducing sodium levels in school meals is so important. The USDA should be doubling down on helping schools reduce sodium, not slowing down progress, as the Trump administration proposed (this week).”

The interim final rule, “Child Nutrition Programs: Flexibilities for Milk, Whole Grains and Sodium Requirements,” is effective July 1, 2018. USDA is accepting public comments on the rule at Comments are due by Jan. 29, 2018.

For more information, contact Tina Namian with USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service at 703-305-2590.


China lowers tariffs on U.S. cheese imports to 8 percent

December 1, 2017

ARLINGTON, Va. — China has lowered its cheese tariffs from 12 percent to 8 percent as part of a broader package of tariff cuts on food and consumer goods announced by China last week. The tariff cuts, effective starting today, are designed to help bolster consumer choice in China.

The U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), which has been working with Chinese officials for the last three years to encourage these tariff cuts, says the move will immediately boost U.S. export competitiveness in China and help U.S. suppliers take a larger role in meeting China’s booming cheese demand.

“We are very pleased with China’s decision because it will help U.S. cheese exporters and manufacturers chip away the tariff disadvantage with other competitors,” says Tom Vilsack, president and CEO, USDEC. “We are even more pleased that the process that yielded the decision helped to further cultivate trust and build critical relationships between the U.S. dairy industry and Chinese official institutions, the nation’s dairy industry and customers.”

USDEC’s China Dairy Tariff Initiative, which began in early 2014, focused on working with Chinese authorities to analyze the mutual benefits that would occur from China unilaterally lowering its tariffs on certain dairy products. Over the last decade, China’s cheese imports have increased more than sevenfold to nearly 100,000 metric tons. Currently a top-10 cheese buyer, China is on pace to become the largest cheese importer in the world in coming years, USDEC says. At the same time, U.S. suppliers have been losing market share, in part due to unfavorable tariff rates versus competitors.

“We took a proactive response to address the competitive disadvantage our exports were facing,” says Jaime Castaneda, USDEC senior vice president, trade policy. “USDEC recognizes that the U.S. remains at a disadvantage not only in China but in other countries when it comes to tariffs due to lack of U.S. free trade agreements. We are committed to finding ways to recoup that competitive disadvantage.”

In addition to four harmonized system (HS) codes covering cheese, the Chinese tariff changes also reduce duties on two categories containing dairy ingredients. Hydrolized protein formula for people with special nutritional needs (HS 2106.90.90) has been lowered from 20 percent to zero, and prepackaged infant foods (HS 1901.10.90) has been lowered from 15 percent to 2 percent.

USDEC says that moving forward, it plans to continue working with China to further reduce tariffs on cheese and other dairy products. This is part of an industrywide “The Next 5%” effort to expand U.S. dairy exports from the equivalent of about 15 percent of annual U.S. milk solids to 20 percent.

“These types of international relationships will be critical to future U.S. dairy export growth and achieving ‘The Next 5%,’” Vilsack says.


USDA trade outlook lowers projected U.S. dairy exports

December 1, 2017

WASHINGTON — U.S. dairy product exports for 2018 are forecast to be worth $5.6 billion, according to USDA’s most recent Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade, released yesterday by the Economic Research Service and Foreign Agricultural Service. This is down $100 million from August’s dairy export forecast of $5.7 billion as global prices weaken and global competition intensifies, USDA says. Total U.S. dairy product exports in 2017 were worth $5.324 billion.

USDA’s latest forecast for dairy product imports is $3.2 billion, unchanged from the August forecast and slightly down from 2017’s $3.252 billion. Cheese imports for 2018 are forecast at $1.3 billion, down from August’s USDA forecast of $1.4 billion but up from the 2017 total of $1.168 billion.

Combined U.S. agricultural exports for fiscal year 2018 are projected at $140.0 billion, up $1.0 billion from the August forecast, largely due to expected increases in corn and distiller’s dried grains with solubles, USDA says. Meanwhile, U.S. agricultural imports in fiscal 2018 are forecast at $117.0 billion, up $1.5 billion from the August forecast, due largely to expected increases in imports of animal products, USDA reports. The U.S. agricultural trade surplus is expected to decline by $500 million to $23.0 billion in fiscal 2018, the report adds.

The outlook notes that world per capita GDP growth is expected to reach 1.9 percent in 2017 and 2.0 percent in 2018, representing a broad-based pickup in economic activity across developed and developing countries, compared to growth of 1.4 percent in 2016. The value of the U.S. dollar has declined since the beginning of the year and is expected to generally trend weaker against many trading partners and competitors in 2018, USDA adds.


CDFA extends deadline to vote on QIP to Dec. 22

December 1, 2017

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has extended until Dec. 22 the deadline for ballot submissions on the proposed Quota Implementation Plan (QIP). The original deadline was Dec. 4.

CDFA in October mailed ballots to 1,054 eligible California dairy producers to vote on the new proposed QIP. The purpose of the referendum is to adopt a means to maintain the California quota program if California producers vote to join the federal milk marketing order (FMMO) system. A vote on becoming part of the FMMO system will take place in the future after USDA publishes a final FMMO plan for California.

Producers originally had 60 days to vote on the QIP created by the Producer Review Board and return the ballots. The stand-alone quota plan will pass if 65 percent of the producers representing 51 percent of milk or 51 percent of the producers representing 65 percent for the milk vote “yes.” (See “California dairy producers to vote on stand-alone quota program developed by state PRB” in the Oct. 6, 2017, issue of Cheese Market News.)

CDFA recently noted that as of Nov. 21, it had received only 400 ballots, representing approximately 38 percent of producers eligible to vote. Citing the disruption caused by recent wildfires in California, the department decided to extend the ballot deadline to Dec. 22.

The proposed QIP only will become effective if an FMMO is promulgated in California.

For more information, contact Hyrum Eastman at 916-900-5014.


USTR updates objectives for NAFTA ahead of fifth round

November 24, 2017

WASHINGTON — The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) amended the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiation objectives last week following extensive discussion with Capitol Hill lawmakers and business leaders. The amended objectives include a call for the elimination of Canadian embargoes on U.S. dairy products.

“This update is an important next step in ensuring that the American people continue to know what the Trump administration is seeking to achieve in a renegotiated NAFTA,” USTR Robert Lighthizer says. “If we are able to achieve these objectives, we will both modernize and re-balance NAFTA to better serve the interests of our workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses.”

According to USTR, the revised objectives enhance focus on technical trade procedures and barriers and allow for increased transparency in trade practices.

“(We) seek to eliminate unjustified measures that unfairly limit access to Canada’s markets and unfairly decrease market access opportunities in third countries for U.S. dairy products, such as cross subsidization, price discrimination and price undercutting,” the amended objectives state.

The revisions remain subject to change at the discretion of USTR and the White House and will be updated regularly and released publicly as the United States continues in NAFTA renegotiations.

Meanwhile, the fifth round of NAFTA renegotiation talks wrapped up this week in Mexico City.

Lighthizer released a statement on the conclusion of the fifth round noting that while some progress was made to modernize NAFTA, he remains concerned about the lack of headway.

“Thus far, we have seen no evidence that Canada or Mexico are willing to seriously engage on provisions that will lead to a rebalanced agreement. Absent rebalancing, we will not reach a satisfactory result,” Lighthizer says. “A rebalanced, updated NAFTA will promote greater prosperity for American workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses and strengthen the North American region as a whole. Our teams will be meeting again next month in Washington. I hope our partners will come to the table in a serious way so we can see meaningful progress before the end of the year.”

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF, attended this week’s talks and said there were no major breakthroughs on the most challenging issues in the negotiations, but no one expected significant movement on issues including rules of origin, dispute settlement and government procurement rules.

Those remain as major issues that the three countries will have to work out, he says.

Mulhern notes negotiators did make progress in a number of technical areas, which is important because it can provide momentum for further progress.

“There was also a noticeable change in tone this week, with less focus on the threat of withdrawal and more on the importance of getting down to business in exchanging proposals,” Mulhern says. “Mexico’s suggestion of a periodic review of NAFTA as a counter to the U.S. proposal for a five-year sunset clause on the agreement was a positive sign.”

One of the dairy industry’s top priorities in the modernization efforts has been to urge the administration to address Canada’s new Class 7 pricing policy, which undercuts skim milk powder prices on the global market. (See “Dairy industry seeks action over Canadian trade policy” in the April 7, 2017, issue of Cheese Market News.)

“We were very pleased with the strong free trade proposal from USTR to eliminate Canada’s huge tariffs on dairy imports and its Class 7 price undercutting program,” he adds. “The updated USTR negotiating objectives released last Friday make clear that Canada must change its dairy policies to get to a final NAFTA 2.0.”

Mulhern notes that in individual discussions with lead negotiators from all three countries, he made clear NMPF’s strong support for achieving final agreement on a modernized NAFTA that maintains the United State’s strong trade relationship with Mexico and eliminates Canada’s problematic dairy policies.

Earlier this week, more than 150 food and agriculture groups including the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), NMPF, Grocery Manufacturers Association and the U.S. Dairy Export Council sent a letter to state governors, agriculture commissioners and leaders of economic development stressing that a withdrawal from NAFTA would be detrimental to U.S. agriculture.

The groups urge state government leaders to contact President Trump and support efforts to modernize the trade agreement. The letter specifically mentions dairy, noting that ending the agreement would cause tariff rates to soar and would undermine the market for U.S. dairy exports in Mexico.

“Notice of withdrawal from NAFTA would result in substantial harm to the U.S. economy generally and food and agriculture producers, in particular,” the groups say. “Such a notice of withdrawal would fuel additional uncertainty among our North American trading partners, creating a sense of urgency to explore non-U.S.-origin sources of supply.”

The groups note the harm a withdrawal would cause the U.S. dairy industry.

“Over $1 billion a year in U.S. dairy products are shipped to Mexico,” the groups say. They add that if the United States, Mexico and Canada return to pre-NAFTA tariff rates, they could “range from 20 to 60 percent on cheese and up to 45 percent for skim milk powder, undermining the largest market by far for U.S. dairy exports at a time when Mexico is preparing to finalize negotiations with the EU, the world’s largest dairy exporter and a region keen to act as a substitute for U.S. dairy.”

In addition to the potential destabilization NAFTA withdrawal would have on the global dairy industry, the groups say a withdrawal could cause a loss of 256,000 U.S. jobs, including at least 50,000 U.S. food and agriculture jobs, and a drop in the U.S. global domestic product of $13 billion in the farm sector.

The letter urges state government leaders to continue their support of a strong modernization of the agreement during talks.
More than 20 freshman members of Congress also voiced their concerns ahead of the trade talks in a letter to Lighthizer stressing that several proposals under review could undercut American economic interests, paralyze dispute settlements and greatly reduce diplomatic relations.

In addition, a bipartisan group of senators this week also wrote to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross urging him to do an economic analysis of the impacts to farmers as a result of any changes to NAFTA.

Michael Dykes, president and CEO of IDFA, says he did not attend this week’s NAFTA talks but he feels the word is getting out more and more that there are significant consequences for agriculture if the United States were to withdraw from the agreement.

He notes NAFTA and other issues including the next farm bill will be discussed at IDFA’s Legislative Fly-in Dec. 5-6.

Meanwhile, the sixth round of NAFTA negotiations is set for Jan. 23-28, 2018, in Montreal, Canada.


Clean labels, traditional, bold flavors popular in cold pack

November 24, 2017

Editor’s Note: “Cheese of the Month” is Cheese Market News’ exclusive profile series exploring various cheese types. Each month, CMN highlights a different cheese in this feature, giving our readers a comprehensive look at production, marketing, sales and in-depth aspects of each profiled cheese type. Please read on to learn about this month’s featured variety: cold pack cheese.

By Rena Archwamety

MADISON, Wis. — Cold pack cheese, a traditional supper club staple, continues to grow and evolve as consumers look for flavorful, healthy snacks and manufacturers innovate with bold tastes and clean labels.

Cold pack cheese first was introduced by a Wisconsin tavern owner who blended natural cheeses without the aid of heat, providing his customers with a spreadable snacking cheese, according to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. Tavern or club owners often would pack this cheese in crocks, so it also became known as “club cheese” or “crock cheese.” Compared to other kinds of cheese spread, the majority of cold pack is natural, with less than 1 percent processed.

“If you want the quality of a really good piece of cheese that you can spread on a cracker or bread, you want cold pack cheese food,” says Mary Lindemann, secretary and director of marketing at Pine River Pre-Pack, Newton, Wisconsin.

However, Lindemann notes cold pack isn’t just for crackers. Pine River has a long list of suggestions to “Break Beyond the Cracker,” including using its cold pack varieties as a chili topping, in meatball and meatloaf recipes or on hamburgers. The company currently is working on a new recipe section for its website.

“It’s a good source of protein that can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch or dinner — on a bagel, in scrambled eggs or on a baked potato,” Lindemann says. “Put it in mac and cheese, or it can be added to any recipe where you would use natural cuts of cheese and just decrease the liquid a bit.”

In the past year (52 weeks ending Sept. 10), the total volume of cold pack cheese sold in multi-outlet plus convenience channels (MULO+C) was 6.5 million pounds, up 9 percent from the same period a year earlier, according to data from Information Resources Inc. (IRI), courtesy of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI). Cold pack volume has gained and accelerated over the last two consecutive years, though it still accounts for less than 1 percent volume share of fixed weight cheese in the United States.

IRI notes that Wisconsin and other Midwestern customers buy more than their fair share of cold pack. Cold pack also is popular in New England metropolitan areas. Green Bay and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, are the top two indexing markets, followed by Buffalo/Rochester, New York. Consumers buy far less in California and Southern geographic regions, where this cheese form barely registers on IRI’s volume purchase index. Higher income households and seniors and retirees over index for cold pack cheese, while millennials under index for the product. Christmas/New Years provides the largest sales lift during the year for cold pack cheese, while Thanksgiving and Super Bowl Sunday, when cold pack my be used as dips, also raise sales volumes.

“You can never go wrong with giving cheese of any kind during the holidays, and it’s always a hit at a party,” says Steve Knaus, owner of cold pack manufacturer Scott’s of Wisconsin. “We do also manufacture cheese balls and logs, which are essentially cold pack cheese rolled in almond and pecan nuts. Although available all year round, we see a definite increase in sales during the holidays.”

Cold pack often is made from Cheddar, Swiss or Colby with added flavors such as herbs, spices, almonds, port wine or horseradish. IRI reports that the top flavored variety is Port Wine, which holds 38 percent volume share, second only to “regular” or unflavored, which has a 48 percent share. Sriracha has the highest recent growth, though from just 1 percent volume.

“Across the board we find that the traditional cold packs are always the most popular: Sharp Cheddar, Port Wine, Cheddar Bacon,” Knaus says. “People remember the Port Wine from their childhood, from a supper club or from grandma’s table, and we see them still going back to it. Sharp Cheddar is tried and true — you can never go wrong with it.”

Scott’s of Wisconsin also has noticed consumers also enjoying cheese spreads that include cream cheese, which offers a softer flavor and texture, in addition to traditional Cheddar cold pack varieties.

“Our Cranberry Cinnamon Cheese Spread and Herb and Garlic Ala Crème Cheese Spread are instant favorites,” Knaus says. “They are great with crackers, pretzels, bagels or even used in a recipe.”

The cheese Pine River uses in its cold pack is aged nine months or longer to maximize the flavor profile. In addition to its Cheddar base, the company also uses Swiss, Asiago, Pepper Jack and Widmer’s Brick cheeses in its various cold pack varieties.

“We thank the Wisconsin cheesemakers for making great cheese, which in turn makes great cheese spread,” says Phil Lindemann, president, Pine River Pre-Pack. “Without their high standards, we could not make our award-winning spreads.”

In addition to retail, Pine River sells its cold pack for private label as well as in bulk sizes for foodservice.

“Restaurants use it sometimes for toppings for hot dogs, with french fries or in macaroni and cheese or other recipes — it’s not just on salad bars,” Lindemann says. “It’s also served on cheese boards. Lots of restaurants use it as an appetizer, especially if it’s won an award.”

“Hot” is one trend in cold pack Pine River has seen over recent years, as well as single serving “grab-and-go” for people on the move or who don’t want to buy too much. Private label also has been a major trend, especially in the past five years, Lindemann adds.

Another big trend is “clean label,” and Pine River in recent years introduced a line of cold pack cheese food varieties made without preservatives, artificial flavors or artificial colors. Additionally, by the fourth quarter of next year, all its products will be made from rbST-free sources.

Cedar Grove Cheese, Plain, Wisconsin, in December is introducing a new line of cold pack spreads that are all-natural, made only with cheese, butter and whey with a Quark and Cheddar base. They come in Habanero Mango and Olive with Pimento varieties and will be sold in glass jars.

“It’s definitely an artisanal product,” says Bob Wills, president, Cedar Grove Cheese, of the new spread. “You can just sit down and eat it with a nice cracker or in a sandwich, but it’s also great for entertaining. It’s a product that people will, I think, enjoy sharing with people.”

Wills says he had been debating with his friends during football season what cheese spreads they like the best, and he concluded he could do better. He also had some nice aged Cheddar around, and thought this was a good opportunity to showcase the cheese. The Olive and Pimento spread will use a Sharp Cheddar base, while the Habanero Mango variety will use a Mild Cheddar.

In addition to giving them a more artisanal look, the glass jars also offer the ability to easily reclose and hold up under freezing and thawing with no leaching of plastics or concerns with flavor or stability of the product, Wills says.

The cold-pack spread — made only with dairy products and natural flavor add-ins — follows the “clean label” trend that has been seen in “pretty much everything,” Wills adds.

“I think people are looking for products that don’t have things in them where they don’t know what they are,” he says.
He also says the flavors offer classic yet on-trend options.

“With the Habanero Mango, we really liked the balance between the pepper spice and the sweetness of the mangoes,” he says. “We’ve been working with some other people doing traditional pimento spreads, but they’re all mayonnaise-based, so we were really looking for more. It seems to me when I was a kid there were olive cheese spreads around, but you just don’t see them anymore. Both of them are quite modern but also traditional.”


Milk production in the 23 major states up 1.5 percent

November 24, 2017

WASHINGTON — Milk production in the 23 major milk-producing states during October totaled 16.74 billion pounds, up 1.5 percent from October 2016, according to preliminary data released Monday by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). (All figures are rounded. Please see CMN’s Milk Production chart.)

September revised production in the 23 major states, at 16.17 billion pounds, was up 1.1 percent from September 2016. The September revision represented a decrease of 9 million pounds or 0.1 percent from last month’s preliminary production estimate.

Production per cow in the 23 major states averaged 1,917 pounds for October, 13 pounds above October 2016. This is the highest production per cow for the month of October since the 23-state series began in 2003, according to NASS.

The number of milk cows on farms in the 23 major states was 8.74 million head, 67,000 head more than October 2016, but 1,000 head less than September 2017, NASS says.

Milk production in the entire United States during October totaled 17.81 billion pounds, up 1.4 percent from October 2016, according to NASS. Production per cow in the United States averaged 1,894 pounds for October, 12 pounds above October 2016. The number of milk cows on farms in the United States was 9.40 million head, 65,000 head more than October 2016 but 1,000 head less than September 2017.

California led the nation with 3.25 billion pounds of milk produced in October, down 1.5 percent from its production a year earlier. Production per cow in California averaged 1,865 pounds in October, down 15 pounds from a year earlier. There were 1.75 million cows on California farms in October, down 13,000 head from October 2016 but unchanged from September 2017.

Wisconsin followed with 2.55 billion pounds of milk produced in October, a 2.3-percent increase from production a year earlier. Production per cow in Wisconsin averaged 1,995 pounds in October, up 45 pounds from October 2016. There were 1.28 million cows on Wisconsin farms in October, unchanged from a year earlier and a month earlier.


U.S. cheeses win honors at World Cheese Awards

November 24, 2017

LONDON — Lynher Dairies of England took home the World Champion Cheese trophy for its Cornish Kern at the 30th anniversary edition of the World Cheese Awards, held last Friday as part of Taste of London Festive Edition at Tobacco Dock. The dark-rinded alpine-style cheese made with pasteurized cow’s milk scored 75 out of a possible 80 during the final round of judging. Runner-up was Blu di Buffala, produced by Italy’s Caseficio Quattro Portoni.

This year’s World Cheese Awards attracted more than 3,000 cheese entries from 35 different countries, judged by 250 experts from 29 different countries.

Two U.S. cheeses were declared major winners: Little Hosmer, made by Cellars at Jasper Hill, won the Barber’s 1833 trophy for “Best New Cheese,” while Gold Hill made by Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy won the trophy for “Best American Cheese.”

In addition to these two “super gold” winners, Cremont from Vermont Creamery, Kiss My Ash from Saputo Cheese USA, Point Reyes Bay Blue from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co., Shepherd’s Blend from Carr Valley Cheese Co. Inc., and Sartori Reserve BellaVitano Gold and Sartori Reserve SarVecchio from Sartori Cheese also were among the top 66 cheeses that received “super gold” awards.

Cheesemakers from Jasper Hill Farm, Sequatchie Cove Creamery and Jumi Cheese also were among 30 cheese professionals from around the world nominated for recognition during the World Cheese Awards.

The Guild of Fine Food, which organizes the awards, invited some of its top judges to put forward names of individuals who are making their mark in the world of cheese today, including cheesemongers, cheesemakers, farmers, affineurs, authors, consultants, educators and importers.

Andy and Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm, Greensboro Bend, Vermont, were nominated by Catherine Fogel, purchasing director for C & E Gastro-Import of Denmark.

“Harbison from Jasper Hill Farm truly is one of a kind, unique, with a floral and mushroomy aroma, followed by the creaminess, texture, taster, aftertaste ... It also brings me to this new trend of just sitting with good cheese, good wine and good company,” Fogel says. “This is one of the best features of this kind of cheese, the intensity limits the amount you take, but you keep going back to have yet another bite.”

Nathan and Padgett Arnold of Sequatchie Cove Creamery, Sequatchie, Tennessee, were nominated by Cathy Strange, global executive coordinator for Whole Foods Market.

“Nathan and Padgett Arnold produce amazing unpasteurized cheese and are committed to bringing back a focus on the products uniquely representing the land of the Appalachian Mountains,” Strange says. “Partnering with herd owners and supporting land management and renewable energy initiatives, they have great passion, vision and dreams for an agricultural model that will work in this environment.”

Sam Frank, a U.S. representative of London-based Jumi Cheese, was nominated by Carlos Yescas, Mexican cheesemonger and author.

“Starting as a cheesemaking apprentice and then cave manager, Sam has researched cheesemaking with the milk of heritage breed animals and presented his findings to the American Cheese Society,” Yescas says. “A representative of Jumi Cheese in the U.S., Sam is a cheesemaker, affineur, monger and now importer, a clear example of the great talent and expertise in our industry.”

Following are U.S. companies that took home medals from the World Cheese Awards:

The Artisan Cheese Exchange, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, won a gold medal for Deer Creek The Fawn, a silver for Deer Creek The Robin, and bronze medals for Deer Creek The Moon Rabbit and Deer Creek The Imperial Buck.

Baetje Farms LLC, Bloomsdale, Missouri, won a silver medal for Miette.

Beehive Cheese Co. LLC, Uintah, Utah, won silver medals for Promontory, Apple Walnut Smoked Promontory and TeaHive, and bronze medals for Barely Buzzed (2) and Promontory (4) entries.

Bellwether Farms, Petaluma, California, won a silver medal for its Whole Milk Basket Ricotta and a bronze medal for Blackstone.
Caputo Brothers Creamery, Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, won a bronze medal for its Ricotta Salata Vecchio.

Carr Valley Cheese Co., La Valle, Wisconsin, received a super gold for Shepherd’s Blend; silver medals for Cave Aged Mellage, Bessies Blend, Bread Cheese, Cave Aged Cardona, Black Sheep Truffle and Aged Marisa; and bronze medals for Glacier Point Gorgonzola, Canaria and Gran Canaria.

Cellars at Jasper Hill, Greensboro Bend, Vermont, won a super gold for Little Hosmer; gold medals for Cabot White Oak Block and Oma; silvers for Weybridge and Alpha Tolman; and bronze medals for Willoughby, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and Cabot Clothbound Cheddar Reserve.

Cypress Grove, Arcata, California, received gold medals for Fromage Blanc and Chevre Log, silver for Midnight Moon and Lamb Chopper, and bronze for Ms. Natural.

Emmi Roth USA, Fitchburg, Wisconsin, won a gold medal for Roth Tomme; silver medals for Roth Grand Cru Original Wheel and Roth’s Private Reserve; and bronze medals for Roth Monroe, Roth Buttermilk Gorgonzola, Roth Grand Cru Original Block and Roth Grand Cru Reserve Block.

Firefly Farms, Accident, Maryland, won a gold medal for Merry Goat Round Spruce Reserve and a bronze for Cabra LaMancha.
Fiscalini Cheese Co., Modesto, California, won a bronze medal for its Extra Mature Bandage Wrapped Cheddar.

Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy, Longmont, Colorado, won a super gold for its Gold Hill and gold medals for Funkmeister and Red Cloud.

Jacobs and Brichford Farmstead Cheese, Connersville, Indiana, won a silver medal for JQ and bronze medals for Everton Premium Reserve and Briana.

Laura Chenel’s Chevre, Sonoma, California, won a gold medal for Ash-rinded Buchette; silver medals for Original Buchette and Original Chabis; and bronze medals for Taupiniére, Herb Cabecou FS, Truffle log and Summer Fig log.

Laurel’s Crown LLC, Othello, Washington, received a silver medal for its Badger Mt. Blue.

Leelanau Cheese Co., Suttons Bay, Michigan, won a silver medal for its Aged Raclette.

Marin French Cheese, Petaluma, California, received bronze medals for its Petite Truffle, Petite Jalapeño, Triple Crème Brie, Supreme Brie and Camembert.

Meadow Creek Dairy, Galax, Virginia, won a bronze medal for Mountaineer.

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co., Point Reyes Station, California, received a super gold for Point Reyes Bay Blue, a silver for Point Reyes Original Blue and a bronze for Point Reyes Toma.

Old Chatham Sheepherding Creamery LLC, Old Chatham, New York, received a silver medal for Kinderhook Creek Mini and a bronze medal for Kinderhook Creek.

Rogue Creamery, Central Point, Oregon, won a gold medal for Organic Rogue River Blue and a bronze for Echo Mountain Blue.

Saputo Cheese USA, Lincolnshire, Illinois, won a super gold for Kiss My Ash.

Sartori Cheese, Plymouth, Wisconsin, won super golds for Sartori Reserve BellaVitano Gold and Sartori Reserve SarVecchio; golds for Sartori Reserve Black Pepper BellaVitano and Sartori Limited Edition Extra-Aged Goat; silver medals for Sartori Reserve

Balsamic BellaVitano and Sartori Classic Parmesan; and bronze medals for Sartori Limited Edition Cognac BellaVitano, Sartori Reserve Kentucky Bourbon BellaVitano and Sartori Limited Edition Pastorale Blend.

Saxon Cheese LLC, Cleveland, Wisconsin, received gold medals for Saxony Alpine Style Cheese and Bid Ed’s Gouda, and a bronze for Big Ed’s Smokehaus Gouda.

Spring Brook Farm Cheese, Reading, Vermont, won bronze medals for Tarentaise and Reading.

Springside Cheese, Oconto Falls, Wisconsin, won a silver medal for its Aged Cheddar.

Sweet Grass Dairy, Thomasville, Georgia, won a silver medal for Asher Blue.

Vermont Creamery, Websterville, Vermont, won a super gold for Cremont; a gold medal for Coupole; a silver for Bijou; and bronze medals for Bonne Bouche, Creme Fraiche, Vanilla Creme Fraiche and Fresh Herb goat cheese.


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Today's Cheese Spot Trading
December 12, 2017

Barrels: $1.6700 (NC)
Blocks: $1.4450 (-1 1/4)

Click here for more market activity
Cheese Production
U.S. Total Oct.
1.07 bil. lbs.

Milk Production
U.S. Total Oct.
17.805 bil. lbs.

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Can you trust your dairy products with third-party warehouses?

Molly Hines, WOW Logistics Co.

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