France in shock over U.S. cheese winning "Best in the World" honor
Based on a review of global food media coverage, the world is having a difficult time coping with the fact that a cheese from the United States has been bestowed the coveted title of "Best" on the planet.
The news broke October 22, when The World Cheese Awards, held in Bergamo, Italy, named Rogue River Blue – made by Rogue River Creamery in Central Point, Oregon – "Best in the World."
It placed No. 1 from a field of 3,804 cheese entries from 42 countries.
It was the first time a cheese from the United States won the coveted top award at the contest some refer to as the "Oscars of Cheese."
Pain and dismay in France
Nowhere has the disbelief been greater than in France.
Sky News reporter Russell Hope summarized the situation in a news article:
"French national pride is on the floor after the country's famous cheeses were snubbed at an international awards ceremony. To make matters worse, a British cheese finished higher in the rankings at the World Cheese Awards, while a US product took the top prize."
World headlines emphasized France's loss as much as America's win and England's respectable showing:
- Sacré bleu, France defeated at World Cheese Awards by American contender – The Takeout, an online publication with the slogan "Food is delicious."
- America snubs France at prestigious World Cheese Awards – New York Post, a tabloid newspaper.
- British and American Cheeses Were Named Best Cheeses In The World And France Is Furious – Delish, a British foodie publication.
The result has put an entire country off balance trying to come to terms with the fact that the unthinkable has happened.
What could compare? It's as if France won the Olympic gold medal over the U.S. in basketball, a sport invented in America, destined to be dominated forever by Americans.
French media outrage
Ouest-France, a French newspaper with 2.5 million daily readers online and in print, described the judges' decision as a "sacrilege." It expressed outrage that "the world's best cheese is not French," questioning the validity of the results.
France is proud, some would say arrogant, of its cheesemaking and condescending toward cheeses made in other countries, especially places that don’t have the centuries-old cheesemaking heritage that European countries make an integral part of their marketing, branding and pricing.
For years, EU countries, particularly France, have dismissed U.S. cheeses as inferior, even though the United States has been upping its game as a global cheese player for years. The U.S. was the world's biggest single-country exporter of cheese by volume in 2018 and its artisan cheeses have been winning medals in world competitions for years.
Rogue Creamery's winning entry was sponsored by the U.S. Dairy Export Council's new USA Cheese Guild™.
A threat to national identity?
Angélique Hollister, the USA Cheese Guild's executive director, understands the feeling in France that this is an assault on national identity.
Hollister was born and raised in France, moving to the U.S. at age 24.
"Cheese is in the DNA of French culture," Hollister explained. "When I lived in France, I had never ever heard of any cheese from the U.S. beyond the wrapped, processed slices you put on hamburgers."
According to Hollister, the mission of the USA Cheese Guild is to "communicate to people around the world the beauty of U.S. cheese."
The World Cheese Awards got the message after USDEC and the USA Cheese Guild persuaded more U.S. cheesemakers than ever to enter.
U.S. cheeses had their best overall showing to date, winning 131 honors including 7 Super Gold, 17 Gold, 40 Silver and 67 Bronze medals.
Reaction from World Cheese Awards
SkyNews quoted John Farrand, managing director of the Guild of Fine Food, which organizes the World Cheese Awards.
Farrand appeared to have little empathy for the seven stages of death and dying many in France are apparently experiencing.
"We try to celebrate cheeses from around the world, especially those made by smaller artisan cheesemakers," Farrand said. "Good cheese is made around the world, not just by the French."