NEW YORK (AP) — Dairy farmers who sell hand-crafted cheese at New York farmer's markets say the state is taking the art and the ease out of artisanal cheese.
Under a new interpretation of food-processing regulations by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, vendors at open-air stands must sell only pre-wrapped cheese, rather than cutting off a wedge from a wheel of cheddar or gouda.
Cheryl Huber, assistant director of New York City's Greenmarket, which runs farmer's markets in all five boroughs, said Greenmarket learned of the reinterpretation last winter.
The rules say that open-air vendors can only slice their cheese to order if they have an enclosed space and a three-compartment sink with hot and cold running water.
"We have been in many conversations with the state and look forward to further discussion," Huber said.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture and Markets did not return several calls and emails Tuesday seeking an explanation for the change.
But cheese vendors said the state rules are hurting their business.
"Who wants to buy pre-packaged artisanal cheese?" said Eran Wajswol of Valley Shepherd Creamery in Long Valley, N.J., who sells at several New York farmer's markets. "For us it was what I call a game ender."
Wajswol said that after inspectors shut down his stand at the Union Square Greenmarket last month, he tried pre-wrapping more than a dozen kinds of cheese.
"Sales were down 70 percent," he said.
Then Wajswol tried to comply with the law by trucking in a sink with hot and cold water powered by electricity. But, he said, city officials shut off the power in Union Square. So now Valley Shepherd is bringing a generator to heat the water.
Other vendors are wrapping their cheese in plastic even though, they say, plastic is bad for the cheese.
"The cheese quality goes down the drain within 12 hours," said Jody Somers of Dancing Ewe Farm in Granville, N.Y. "Our customers are really unhappy with the whole plastic pre-packaged cheese."
Jonathan White of Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse in Milford, N.J. said he sent an email to regular Greenmarket customers "apologizing for the loss of cheese intimacy."
"All I can do is apologize and then comply," he said.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.