China Bans Soft Cheeses from Europe, But Chinese Soft Cheeses Are OK
If you live in China, it's becoming even harder to get your hands on some Camembert—and not just because the famous French soft cheese is literally going extinct. In August, China banned imports of soft cheeses, also known as mold-ripened cheeses, from Europe. This includes Camembert and Brie, as well as blue cheeses like Roquefort. The ban on soft cheeses was first announced by Shanghai-based online cheese seller Cheese Republic, which posted a statement on the Chinese social media app WeChat on September 7 explaining, "We received an announcement from the Chinese official authorities saying that part of cheese products containing certain [molds] cannot temporarily be imported into China."
Reuters then confirmed the news of this Chinese soft cheese ban with an unnamed European diplomat, who explained that according to Chinese officials, these soft cheeses are "made with cultures not authorized in China." This is despite the fact that "the country has allowed them to come in for years."
This isn't the first time China has banned European cheeses without much explanation. Back in 2014, the government placed a temporary ban on imports of British cheeses because Chinese inspectors visiting a dairy were dissatisfied with the cheesemaker's maintenance and storage. However, as BBC News noted in its report, "the dairy they visited does not export its produce to China."
And though this kind of regulation around cheese seems silly, this ban on foreign imports could have potentially catastrophic effects on the European dairy industry and cheesemakers. That's because, quite simply, China loves cheese. As Christophe Lafougère, CEO of the research company Gira, told a meeting of the IDF World Dairy Summit in 2016, "China is establishing itself as the largest dairy market," adding that the country is posed to import 200,000 tons of cheese annually within five years. And that demand extends to interest in high-end, brand name cheeses that are imported; Brie and Camembert alone accounted for about 15 percent of total cheese sales in China this year, according to data from Euromonitor pulled by Reuters.
The ban is ostensibly temporary, but considering that "the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine in Beijing, which oversees food imports for the entire country ... did not respond to faxed questions on the matter" from Reuters, it may take a while. There is no ban on French-style cheeses made in China, however, and there's at least one French-trained Chinese cheesemaker living in Beijing, so that'll have to do in the meantime.