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Russia Is Desperately Trying to Copycat France's Cheese

Due to its ongoing ban on Western cheese, Russia is trying its hand at making French-style cheeses to meet demand within its borders, sending cheesemakers to French producers to pick up on some of that French cheese magic and bring it back to the...
Photo via Flickr user Denis Bourez

Russian cheese may sound like some sort of cruel Soviet-era joke, but due to its ongoing ban on Western cheese, Russia is trying its hand at making French-style cheeses to meet demand within its borders. Russian dairies are sending their cheesemakers to French producers to pick up on some of that French cheese magic and bring it back to the motherland.

"It's not a secret that the European cheese culture is at a much higher level than it is in Russia," Taras Kozhanov, the director of the Russian cheesemaker Lukoz Saba, told RT. "That's why we've come up with an idea to send our technologist to France. We intend to make cheese superior to the one made in Russia now."

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READ: Russia's Food Sanctions Have Escalated into Mass Cheese-Burning

Russia banned imported cheeses and other food products last year in response to Western sanctions against Russia due to the ongoing conflict over Ukraine. In August of last year, more than 900 tons of food imported from the US and European Union were slated for destruction because they were deemed a security threat—officials even bulldozed a "cheese mountain." The waste upset many in a country where poverty rates are soaring and famine is a not-so-distant memory.

Russian is cheese-challenged compared to the French in terms of both technology and ingredients. French cheesemaking is the stuff of legend, an art perfected by men and women in sleepy villages and towns throughout France over the course of thousands of years. Having the right ingredients is a given—as the mayor of Saint-Loup de Fribois in Normandy and the administrator of the Saint-Loup cheese works told CNN in 2008, "A Camembert without raw milk is like making love without sex."

"As you know, cheese is 95 percent milk. Certainly, all the milk will be Russian," said Kozhanov. "However, we use French and Dutch yeast, because Russian yeast is inferior in quality.

"There is good milk in Russia. But you have to find it and pay more," he continued. "I hope that with time Russian producers will understand that it's more profitable to make good milk, not just milk."

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To get their hands on some of that French milk, one Russian goat-cheese-maker is importing a herd of French Alpine goats.

Unable to import finished French food products, Russian cheesemakers are importing expertise. Eventually, Kozhanov hopes to bring French cheesemakers to Russia to advice in the production process. The arrangement is facilitated by Business France, a French trade group.

At first, Russian importers tried to fill the cheese-wheel-shaped hole in their stomachs with non EU-cheese from Switzerland, Argentina, Morocco, and other places, but it just wasn't enough. A black market cheese ring sprang up, and police eventually seized 470 tons of illegal cheese with counterfeit labels of known foreign producers worth $30 million.

That's a whole lot of Cheddar.

If the Russians do succeed in capturing or channeling some of the delicious funk of French cheese, you may have the opportunity to try it. The United States has no import ban on Russian food, allowing you to stock up on Russian cheese to your heart's desire.