Friday, August 28, 2009

Blessed Are the Cheesemakers

Today appears to be Mexican-American Food Day here at Burro Hall, so we'll bring you the news that the Los Angeles City Attorney's office, having all but eradicated crime there, has turned its sights towards the the great menace coming up from South of the Border. We're referring, of course, to cheese.

On Thursday the L.A. city attorney's office announced the filing of misdemeanor charges against three businesses and their owners, in addition to a store manager, for allegedly selling illegal cheese. Garcia, president of Expresion Oaxaquena Market Inc., was one of them.

Prosecutors said they are going after businesses that sell unpasteurized, unlicensed and often unlabeled cheeses that could contain harmful bacteria. Quesillo is just one that authorities say is often sold or served illegally.

"We're looking at this as a public health risk," said Don Kass, a deputy city attorney. "This kind of cheese can cause a serious illness when pathogens are present."

Health officials say some of it is spirited into the country in suitcases and is then sold door to door to residents or restaurants and at open air markets out of coolers. In other cases, the cheese is made locally in bathtubs. Many consumers don't know that what they are eating is not regulated, he said.

"The risk of bacteria is worrisome," said Steve Lyle, a spokesman for the state Department of Food and Agriculture. "This is something our agency works on year around. We believe it's a significant problem."...

Kass, the deputy city attorney, said Garcia and the three others charged with the sale of illegal unpasteurized cheese -- Faviola Martinez Garcia, Sabrina Aguilar and Maria Justo -- faced thousands of dollars in fines. They could also get up to 100 days of jail time, but he said that was unlikely. "We're trying to deter others," Kass said.

Hey, why not just cut off their feet? That would be an effective deterrent, wouldn't it? Because California authorities brought similar charges against illegal cheesemakers two years ago, and that effectively ended the illegal cheese trade. And the Great Mocajete Crackdown on 2008 was a total game-changer.

At least the LA Times takes care to point out the obvious thing about queso oaxaca - it's fucking awesome!

And many people know its provenance is illegal but think it tastes better. Jonathan Gold, the Pulitzer Prize-winning L.A. Weekly food critic, said he prefers it.

"I will admit that there are some groceries . . . where you do kind of buy cheese under the table, and it tastes better," Gold said. "If you're the sort of person who believes milk has a soul to it, which I guess I am, then pasteurizing is taking something away." As for the potential danger posed by unpasteurized cheese, Gold added: "Life is filled with risks."


chip said...

From a cheese lover:

Forget pasteurization.

Someone out there is selling cheese that was made in a BATHTUB?! WTF?! Is this before or after their incontinent Grandma took her weekly bath?

This is just the sort of activity the criminal justice system is made for!

Dave said...

I love the "felony cheesemaking charge" in the article. Scary stuff!

Burro Hall said...

Can imagine trying to explain to your new cellmate at Chino why you're in there?

Anonymous said...

It is true, here in New York they sell "quesillo" but pasteurized. It tastes like gum, plastic. It's not the same. the real "quesillo" is sour and more moisted. But that's the reason the pasteurized cheese is called "Oaxaca style" because it's not really ....the real thing. We eat it all the time in Mexico and we are not dying out.

Anonymous said...

Oaxacan quesillo is stored in water, the way fresh mozzarella is. When cheese for sale is packed in an unregulated place (at home in somebody's maybe kitchen) sometimes the water is from anywhere and not purified water.
This is how one gets amoebas and other parasites, including e-coli bacteria which can be fatal, and is a complaint even among Oaxaquenos. People often have a favored cheese salesperson because of this. And chip has a point about pasteurization, too! From a public health standpoint, felony cheesemaking charges make sense. From a tourism/sales industry/reputation of Oaxaca standpoint, too, and probably mostly!

Burro Hall said...

Deputy City Attorney Don Kass, ladies and gentlemen...