Best Of Both Worlds

It’s easy to see the appeal of local. Who hasn’t walked through a farmer’s market and enjoyed the variety of local vendors? Interacting with genuine farmers, sampling product and listening to makers of local cheese, honey and other products explain the unique characteristics of their wares adds something special to the experience. We perceive local as enhancing our options and enriching our communities.

How else can we view the explosion of specialty cheese production in states across the country and the rise of American specialty cheese to world-class status?

As much as we might appreciate local and perceive benefits for our community in preserving open space and agricultural land, to live a life defined solely as a “locavore” and arbitrarily restrict ourselves to food produced within a 50- or 100-mile radius of our home is to decide to reject the fruits of progress and to live an insular and in some ways impoverished life.

Ironically, the local movement reaches its pinnacle when the products are so good the world wants them. It was not even a half-decade ago, when Rogue Creamery, the sine qua non of the local specialty cheese industry in Oregon, sent out a press release announcing it had become the first American exporter of raw-milk cheese to the European Union with its first shipment of Rogue River Blue to the famed Neal’s Yard Dairy and its entire blue cheese line to Whole Foods in London.

Living at the locus of an international supply chain offers the great gift of being able to sample the best foods from around the world. Yet when calamity strikes, it also reminds us of the fragility of that supply chain, and it means tragedy anywhere can somehow touch our lives.

So let us send best wishes to the food producers in northern Italy whose lives and livelihood were affected by the earthquake that hit that region in mid-May. Newspapers at the time were filled with pictures of large wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano that had tumbled to the floor as aging facilities collapsed during the quake.

How it will all play out is unclear. How much cheese was damaged? Where will they put the cheese as they make repairs? How much will the cheesemakers suffer if they have to sell partially aged cheeses for lower value uses? There is much we don’t know yet.

An earthquake that reduces the supply of a wonderful product makes us all a little poorer, makes all our lives less rich and reminds us how fortunate we are to live in a time when our options are vast when we can both eat local and try the best the world has to offer.