An important new development is looming over the Italian dairy scene. Combined with those generated by increased milk quotas, its effects could prove devastating. Let me explain.
To date the consumer had only one certainty when it came to cheese and cheesemaking techniques: the raw material had to be milk and nothing else. Often when speaking about wine in the past, some joker would inevitably come up with the sarcastic quip that you could even make wine out of grapes! In this magazine we have periodically expressed concern about the paucity of the information contained in labels, but we do believe that no one ever had any doubts that cheese was made exclusively with milk. Indeed, with the exception of processed cheeses, it is still forbidden to use milk powder and caseinates.
Now the situation is about to change on account of the EU’s Regulation 760/2008 of July 31 2008 on the use of casein and caseinates in the making of cheese. In brief, the regulation states that, as of January 1 2009, single Member States may authorize the use of casein and caseinates in up to a maximum of 10% of their total output. PDO and PGI products are of course excluded from the ruling.
For the EU, therefore, Member States ‘may’—as opposed to ‘must’—authorize the use of these substances. At the time of writing, Italy had yet to take a decision decide but, clearly, whatever it does decide, the effect for milk producers will be minimal insofar as the other European countries favor an affirmative response. The upshot will be strong tensions on the European market from January 1 since, given the possibility of using caseins, the dairy industry will have a formidable weapon at its disposal to determine the price of milk.
Before getting to the heart of the matter, let us consider a few technical points. Why use caseinates and why use them now? Previously these substances were forbidden not for commodity reasons, but simply because the industry made use of Community subsidies to produce them. Since the EU, distributes a variety of other forms of incentive for cheesemaking, the latter sometimes ended receive EU subsidies twice over.
Now that such subsidies have been eliminated, the EU has removed the veto and thus declares itself not opposed to the use of caseinates. But why do industrialists want to use them? Simply because they cost less, being produced in countries such as New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, where milk is considerably cheaper than in Europe—so much so as to render more economical a product to make which it is necessary to sustain high industrial costs (acidification of milk, separation and desiccation of caseins).
So what about quality? Let’s start with milk. If the caseins come from the countries cited above, the original milk is of far superior quality to that of European countries and the USA. This is due to reasons that our readers already know about: namely that the cattle graze in pastures and receive few or no feed concentrates, that production levels are lower and that the environment is clean and healthy. But then the industrial desiccation process compromises the milk’s quality and the cheese production technique consists of combining caseinates, milk and cream.
Since little is known about these products, the next number of Caseus will publish a detailed account of research outcomes, though the limited amount of literature consulted confirms that the final result is a long way from the one that would be achievable with milk alone. With regard to quality, the consumer is to some degree protected by the label and is in a position to choose. The question may prove more serious for milk producers.
The authorization for the use of caseinates has arrived in Italy at the same time as the increase in EU quotas. The Study Center of Fieragricola (Biennial international exhibition of machinery, services and products for agriculture and animal farming) predicts that the price of milk at the byre will drop by 10-15 per cent solely on account of the quotas. Imagine what will happen when the industry starts using caseinates as an alternative to milk up to a maximum of 10 percent. After the collapse of Wall Street, we’re now about to witness that of ‘Cow Jones’!
It’s not hard to predict that spring 2009 will be very hot. To think that breeders have received the news of the increased quotas with great enthusiasm. All we can do, at this stage, is accept the fact that the sector has no idea what’s happening and is playing away happily as the ship sink.
Roberto Rubino is president of the A.N.FO.S.C. Italian National Cheese Association, head of the Experimental Zootechnical Institute in Potenza and editor of Caseus.
Caseus, a two-monthly magazine about the art and culture of cheese, is one of the few periodicals in the world specialized in the dairy sector. It is aimed at anyone—from the breeder to the producer, from the connoisseur to enthusiast—keen to stay informed about the world of cheese. The next number will be out in December. To subscribe, visit www.caseus.it or call +39 971 54661.