Cheese-loving expats in China are dismayed with China’s recent announcement to ban imported mould-ripened cheese in the country – spreading anguish amongst Camembert and Brie-eating expats.
These are not the only two kinds of cheese affected. Over a dozen cheeses made in France as well as Italian Gorgonzola can no longer be imported into China due to the new ban, which started in July, but became nationwide in early September 2017.
The ban came into effect after health authorities informed quarantine officials that bacteria colonies such as the penicillin found in blue cheese were not on an approved import list. This is despite the fact that China has been importing famous and traditional European cheeses for decades without any adverse effect.
Cheesy double standards
Foreign cheese lovers are outraged, feeling there is no good reason for the ban, because China considers the same type of mouldy cheese to be safe if it is produced in China.
Chinese authorities are relatively unmoved by the pain expressed by cheese-loving expats, as mould-ripened cheese only makes up a tiny fraction of the dairy products imported into China.
Last year China imported more than USD $400 million of cheese – but much of this was mozzarella, a popular cheese used in pizza.
This is not the first time China has banned the importation of foreign cheese. In 2014, the government prevented the import of British cheese after finding fault with the hygiene standards of a major UK dairy – despite the fact that the dairy did not export cheese to China.
Expats urged to try “Chinese cheese”
Fermented tofu, also known as Chinese cheese, has a texture similar to blue cheese or feta cheese and can be stored in the fridge for a very long time. This food was very popular in the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) when fermented tofu was exported to Southeast Asia. There are a few distinctive varieties of fermented tofu – with the original fermented tofu called bai fang or white cube. Bai fang has been a popular local delicacy, originating in the city of Guilin around AD 1960. Known as one of the ‘three treasures of Guilin’, bai fang is small, soft and smooth with a salty flavour that is often used to improve the appetite in the humid climate of Guilin.
For those mouldy cheese lovers who enjoy a stinky cheese, it is recommended they try qing fang – a stinky tofu with a greenish-grey coating and a creamy consistency.
With only a few months to Christmas, many expats are not embracing the idea of ‘Chinese cheese’ and are rushing off to their local stores to stock up on their favourite mouldy cheese, so they can enjoy their traditional festive cheese boards. Mozzarella is still available as well as hard French cheeses like Comté and Beaufort and Spanish cheeses like Manchengo.
Cheeses which have been banned include:
- Chevre Sainte Maure
- Fourme d’Ambert
- Perail Papillon
- Saint Nectaire
- Vieux Pané
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