Asia Pacific

Taking cheese to China

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Historic and traditionally made European cheeses are back on the menu in China after authorities accept they are safe to eat, reports Jacquetta Picton

Chinese authorities have lifted their ban on certain soft European cheeses after negotiations by a team from the EU and lobbying from both the French and British embassies.

The ban was first imposed in Shanghai in the summer before spreading to other cities across China in September 2017. The offending cheeses included Camembert, Brie, Roquefort, Gorgonzola and Stilton. The problem being, according to the authorities, they contained bacteria that could be harmful to human health.

European officials had opposed the restrictions, saying last month there was: “no good reason for the ban, because China considers the same cheese safe if produced in China.”

Growing appetites

Despite a growing appetite in china for western food, cheese consumption – especially mould-ripened, strong-flavoured cheese – is quite low. Robert Mang FCSI of Dishes, a foodservice consultancy with an office in Hong Kong, confirms: “Although the sales volume of cheese has increased dramatically in the past years, comparatively speaking, the base of cheese lovers in China is only a very small amount. Consequently, the impact of the ban was mainly felt expatriates from Europe, Western-style restaurants – especially French and Italian restaurants – and International five-star Hotels.”

It is expected to take several weeks before these banned cheeses will be available to buy in China once more. Vincent Marion, co-founder of online shop Cheese Republic, which is based in Shanghai, stated: “We are very happy about the decision. I think it’s a way for China to show they’re really open-minded to selling foreign products and especially cheese.”

Cheese sales in China are expected to reach $800 million this year, up 26% from last year, according to research firm Euromonitor. More than 90% of cheese sold in the market is imported. The most popular imported cheese is mozzarella, thanks to the growing popularity of pizza among the Chinese population. Most of this comes from New Zealand and Australia. Although, before the ban, demand for high-end products such as Brie and Camembert was seeing some growth too, with the two cheeses accounting for about 15% of sales this year.

Jacquetta Picton