Roquefort: Get It While You Can

The Cheesemonger

The current 100% import tariff on Roquefort has never proven to be a significant impediment for its consumption. But what would an increase to 300% do? We may have to find out, thanks to one of Bush's very last acts while in office, which tripled the rate and all but prohibited the import of this French gem.

Until Obama rolls back the tax -- we're optimistic that he'd do so for the sake of cheese -- it's up to us to get our fill until the new rate goes into effect in March. Here's why the rate has gone up, and why the American government has all but declared war on French food imports.

The act, which Bush solidified just a few days before leaving office, is a continuation of an attack on French imports that started in the late 90's under Clinton in order to pressure the French to lift their import ban on American beef treated with hormones. (Who can blame them?)

By the prices that would be required to support it, the new tariff could just as easily be considered an outright ban on Roquefort. "We expect that a 300% duty will have the desired effect on imports," implies U.S. trade spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel.

Bush may have had more on his mind than just admonishing the French for their resolute opposition to hormone-infested meat. The new tariff has been construed as a not-so-subtle political act denouncing the French government. We can't help but recall the cringe-worthy Freedom Fries debacle after the French emphatically withdrew troops from the American-led invasion of Iraq.

But what's worst is that this act is affecting French farmers the most. Although exports to America contribute only 2% to Roquefort's overall distribution, it represents no small chunk: our allotment weighs in at about 400 tons of cheese per year, all being produced in the small French town of Roquefort in the Midi-Pyrénées. In fact, Roquefort production is the town's primary source of income.

Roquefort's production has been protected since 1411! It's a shame that our government can't support one of the cornerstones of French food tradition merely because the French stand by their belief in hormone-free meat. But hopefully, with the help of the new administration, we won't have to examine these implications.

Related: The Cheesemonger: Why is Blue Cheese Blue?

Image: Flickr member doozzle licensed under Creative Commons.

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Nora Singley used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop. Until recently she was a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show. She is currently a freelance food stylist and recipe developer in New York.

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