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New law cuts open the Brazilian cheese market

. Sep 06, 2020
cheese minas gerais Photo: Fla Novais/Shutterstock

Brazil isn’t typically seen as a go-to destination for cheese nuts. Unlike France, the British Isles, or Italy, with their centuries-old traditions, cheese in the vast majority of Brazil is an afterthought. Supermarkets typically stock plasticky, pasteurized mozzarella, the mild and uninteresting queijo prato, or sachets of grated imitation parmesan. Imported European cheese is ignored or prohibitively expensive.

The saving grace of Brazil’s cheese culture, however, comes from the south-eastern state of Minas Gerais, particularly in the regions of Serro and the Serra da Canastra, where countless cheeses are produced that can rival much of the production of the European heavyweights. Canastra and Serro cheeses, for example, are protected by the Brazilian Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (Iphan).

</p> <p>However, the problem is that the vast majority of Minas Gerais cheese producers were hamstrung by sanitary legislation for decades, being literally illegal to sell their cheese over state lines. The law stated that any product made using raw milk could not be traded outside of its state of origin — meaning that the only cheese that made it out of Minas legally was pasteurized, paling in comparison to the taste and quality of the real thing, which was often sold clandestinely.</p> <p>This changed in June 2018, with the entry into force of <a href="https://www.almg.gov.br/consulte/legislacao/completa/completa.html?tipo=LEI&amp;num=23157&amp;comp=&amp;ano=2018">a law loosening rules on the inspection</a> of cheeses, charcuterie and lunch meat. In short, oversight on these products was transferred to state authorities, and a special &#8220;Art&#8221; seal was created to regulate artisanal products.</p> <p>Even so, these independent cheese producers complained that the legislation did nothing to help their small businesses and they were forced to continue to sell their products on the fringes of the law. This should change, after new rules implanted on August 19. The novel regulations will now benefit approximately 30,000 producers in 600 municipalities in Minas Gerais, who will now be able to sell their cheese to other Brazilian states.</p> <p>One of the major faults of previous legislation was that only one variety of cheese from Minas Gerais was properly regulated and permitted for production and sale — now, a multitude of traditional types, made with different kinds of milk, will be given the green light.</p> <p>The legislation will also allow for the use of different production and maturation techniques which were previously heavily restricted. The Minas Gerais Agricultural Research Company (Epamig) is already carrying out several experiments in the state to improve the quality of production and maturation of traditional Minas cheese, analyzing tests with different ingredients and control of maturation conditions.</p> <h2>International fame</h2> <p>While you may not yet have tasted or even heard of cheese produced in Minas Gerais, rest assured that the global cheese opinion leaders are full of praise for some of the stunning varieties made in Brazil&#8217;s Southeast. In the 2019 Mondial du Fromage competition held in Tours, France, 59 Brazilian kinds of cheese won medals — 50 of them came from Minas Gerais, of which three were awarded in the top 40 &#8216;Super Gold&#8217; category.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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