Why This Canadian Can’t Wait for More European Cheese to Cross Our Border

Thursday, 17 October 2013 | Tags: , , ,

Your holiday cheese platter is about to get more interesting. That's because the Canadian government is on the verge of signing a trade agreement with the European Union which will, among other things, allow more imported cheese into Canada. 15,000 new tariff free tons a year, or thereabouts. That's a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches.

In case you were unaware, Canadian Dairy farmers have had a sweet deal in this country for decades.  Since the 1970’s there has been a supply management system in place whereby producers get to regulate the supply of milk, poultry and eggs.  Imports have been limited in areas where domestic products can supposedly meet demand and it’s the reason driving across the border for a few quarts of milk is worth your while because it’s the farmers who get to decide how much milk we need.  That supply management system means dairy farmers here are almost completely insulated from foreign competition due to tariffs that are over 200 percent.  It all amounts to one big fat hidden tax.

Today there are approximately 12,500 dairy farms in Canada, making up less than 0.5% of the population.  And that dairy quota is worth around $30 billion.

Kudos to all the cheese producers in Canada as there are some truly wonderful cheeses made here, particularly in BC, Quebec and Ontario.  But cheese is my thing.  My specialty.  At any one time there are 4 or 5 different types in my refrigerator.  I have traveled the world and part of the reason Italy and France are two of my favourite places to visit is the dairy.  There are centuries old cheese-making practices in place and as a result the cheeses are sublime.  They taste like the grass, earth, flowers, nuts and milk.  So I for one am thrilled that we’ll be seeing more of them on our store shelves.

Predictably, dairy farmers are crying the blues that they won’t be able to compete with so many other superior cheeses that will flood our market.  They’ll be crowded out.  Well, I say let the cream rise to the top.

As the entertaining season is just around the corner, if you plan to be putting out a cheese board for your guests you’re going to have such fun!  Choose a selection of hard and soft cheese.  Here are a few crowd pleaser suggestions I discovered along my travels:

Chaumes – French – cow’s milk – soft and creamy texture.
Comté – French (similar to Swiss Gryuere) – cow’s milk – nutty flavour – medium hard texture.
Reblochon – French – cow’s milk- soft texture – strong flavour.

Parmigiano-Reggiano – Italy – cow’s milk – hard texture – medium to sharp flavour.
Fontina Val d’Aosta – Italy – cow’s milk – medium texture – nutty flavour
Pecorino Toscano – sheep’s milk – medium texture – high butterfat content which you can taste!

I would also suggest trying aged Lankaaster from Ontario (as in Canada.)  It just won top honours at the Global Cheese Awards.  Go figure!

[Top photo by Jules Morgan]

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  • Steve


    What a bunch of bull!!

    Hidden tax — NO WAY! We have stabilized the market here so that Canadian dairy producers and our fellow Canadians can be sure to succeed and not be snuffed out by the glut of highly subsidized foreign sources of the same product.

    SHAME on you! Check out the facts maam!

    • Anna Wallner

      “Sure to succeed”….most definitely! And who pays for that? The Canadian consumer. The fact is we pay up to 3 x more for dairy products in this country compared to our American neighbours. The reason is supply management. Through a system of quotas, licenses and tariffs it keeps prices artificially high and the consumer foots the bill. Low income families can pay as much as 25% of their income on food. Compare that to the approximately 5% that higher income families pay. Dairy quotas alone cost the Canadian economy BILLIONS of dollars a year. It’s time to let the free market prevail. That is what is fair to ALL consumers.

      • Steve

        Hi Anna,

        Please remember that most dairy farmers are low income families! They work extraordinarily hard and can barely stay afloat as it is. I would like to continue to consume Canadian dairy products as opposed to Chinese, European or even American products. I value my fellow citizens and believe that it essential that we support them any way we can. As to the proportion that low income families pay for food, I could not agree more with your points. In my view, higher income citizens should be bearing a greater proportion of the collective burden by paying more taxes to support our equally hard working and generally under paid fellow citizens (how about a living wage for all!).

        Anna, you are inspiring and bring a lot of wonderful information to the attention of your viewers. Good job! I too believe in a free market, but within Canada only! As you know, no Canadian business can or should compete against wages in Asia that are as low as 19 cents an hour (let alone the conditions that such workers must tolerate). The BILLIONS in additional costs are worth it. Let us find other more progressive ways to support lower income families in Canada.



      • Karen Green Armstrong

        What’s wrong with Canadian farmers getting a living wage? That’s what supply management does. The system was created by farmers for farmers to be paid what it actually costs to produce the milk, eggs, chicken and turkey. European and American farmers get government subsidies to make up the difference between what the farmer gets paid and what it costs to produce the food. Everyone deserves a fair wage and decent living conditions and Canadians love to support fair trade foods produced in other countries. Why can’t Canadian farmers get the same kind of love?

  • Lisa @bitesforbabies

    I have to add one…Pecorino Sardo or Sardinian Peretta! They make a dessert called “seadas” which is basically fried puff pastry, stuffed with melted peretta cheese, and drizzled with honey!!! YUM!

  • Eugen

    My problem with this is that other countries seriously subsidize their farmers which lowers the supposed cost of food to the consumer. With a free trade deal on food stuffs you can have one country seriously damage another via subsidies. Sure, you might be able to take them to some international court but that would take years, years in which Canadian producers would go bankrupt.

    As for price I’ll simply state that milk in the US sucks. It has an off taste except for the organic varieties, and even those are sometimes weird tasting. I recall travelling with my kids when they were small and they hated the taste of US milk. They would regularly call it “yucky”. Similarly, I’ve had American friends come up with their families and all have heaped praise on Canadian milk commenting on how creamy and tasty it was, vastly better than what they could get in the US.

    The problem is a larger player will simply twist the rules in their favour. We need look no further than sports where some US cities will build arenas for the hockey teams for free. The ongoing cost of the arena doesn’t impact their bottom line, especially not in terms of a an ongoing mortgage. Same goes for dairy products where France in particular heavily subsidizes. The US subsidizes farming to huge numbers, with billions going to corn producers alone so they can produce corn to turn into HFCS as opposed to buying sugar from, say, Cuba…

    So, I’m with Steve. I worry about the impact on our great quality dairy. At the same time, I’m looking forward to more interesting selections of European cheeses. But one thing I would not want is for our dairy or egg farmers to fall victim to “free trade” thereby eliminating what is a vastly superior product to what can be gained from the US, say.

    And do note, while taking baking courses at Le Cordon Bleu the French chefs, all from France, constantly heaped praise on Canadian dairy. They repeatedly stated that our butter in particular is fantastic and easily comparable to most butter from France. They did mention Normandy butter as the exception, but that was before some producers here started making Normandy style butter so I wonder what they’d think of that in comparison.

    What I do find odd about people is that they claim to be willing to pay more for a quality product, except when it comes to food. When it comes to the most important thing they can buy they always want to cheap out. It’s unbelievable to me.