USDA revises Swiss cheese standards

SALEM, Ohio – Cheese producers say revised USDA standards for Swiss cheese will allow them to make a bigger profit for a product they are already producing.

As of Feb. 22, producers will get Grade A prices for Swiss cheese with smaller eyes or holes.

Ohio is the nation’s largest producer of Swiss cheese.

“This is way overdue. This move reflects the market need,” said Richard Guggisberg of Guggisberg Cheese in Charm, Ohio. “This is what our consumers want.”

Positive change.

Guggisberg and Richard Hicks of Ragersville Cheese in Ragersville, Ohio, agree the new standards are a positive change. They say the changes aren’t representative of government mandates but a necessary change for the industry.

“The general public always seems to be misled when they hear USDA changes or revises grades. This isn’t a government forced thing. It wasn’t USDA forcing us to change; it’s the industry,” said Hicks. “This isn’t a bad thing. This is a good thing for the cheesemaker.”

Hicks and Guggisberg say the new grades won’t have much of an impact on their production because they are already producing more of the small-eyed cheese.

“It’s not going to change our operations much because we’re already meeting our consumers’ needs,” said Guggisberg. “We’re just going to get more for what we’re already producing.”

Swiss cheese with large holes is harder to slice and package, says Hicks, and most consumers seem to prefer prepackaged cheese with small eyes.

Buying eyes.

“They’re not just buying with their mouths, they’re buying more with their eyes,” said Hicks. “When I was younger, the cheese had to have quarter-size holes. Now people want dime- and nickel-size holes. They want smaller holes and more of them.”

Hicks says cheese makers get paid according to the grade of cheese they produce, therefore with the revised standards, they will still be able to satisfy the customer’s demand and make more of a profit.

“The grocery stores would buy Grade B cheese and sell it at Grade A prices because the consumers would pay that much for the smaller-holed, prepackaged cheese,” said Hicks. “Now we will get that same price increase.”

Hicks and Guggisberg believe consumers will see little, if any, price change at the grocery store.

U.S. grades of Swiss cheese are based on flavor, body, eyes and texture, finish and appearance and color.

Grade A.

U.S. Grade A Swiss cheese should have a flavor consistent with the age of the cheese, and the body should be uniform, smooth and firm.

The well-developed and slightly oval shaped eyes should be relatively uniform in size and distribution. The majority of the eyes should be three-eighths to thirteen-sixteenths inch in diameter.

If the cheese has a rind, it should show that mold has not penetrated into the cheese. Without a rind, the wrapping should cover and protect the surface of the cheese, and the cheese may have a small amount of mold as long as it hasn’t penetrated the interior of the cheese. Grade A cheese should be white to pale yellow in color.

USDA officials believe the revised changes reflect improvements in Swiss cheese quality and will provide consistency with other product standards.

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