Russia makes knock-off European cheese as embargo bites

GMT 16:48 2014 Wednesday ,17 December

Arab Today, arab today Russia makes knock-off European cheese as embargo bites

Cheesemaker Dmitry Markitan checks goat cheese
Golovkovo-Marino - AFP

The Camembert made near Moscow might look -- or even smell -- like the famous French fromage, but it's part of a booming knock-off market in Russia as stocks of banned European cheeses disappear.
Mozzarella made in the Russian region of Bryansk and Roquefort from Altai in Siberia are also part of the flourishing trade that has popped up since Russia decreed a food embargo in response to Western sanctions in the summer.
"In August we were processing about 100 litres (26 gallons) of milk per day, but now we are processing 270-300," said cheesemaker Dmitry Markitan, who crafts his goat-milk Camembert in Golovkovo-Maryino, about 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of Russia's capital.
"I think it's linked to the sanctions," he said. "Clients who used imported products before are now coming to work with us."
The scarcity in supply has sent prices soaring by at least 20 percent, making it easier to ignore the fact the products have protected names and origins.
The names Roquefort and Mozzarella cannot be used in the European Union, and increasingly abroad, unless the products are made in a particular place or in a certain way.
However, since Soviet times, Russians have been swilling local Champagne and Cognac -- although both names are protected under EU rules -- without too much concern.
- Voracious appetite -
Cheese is just behind fruit as the European export most impacted by the embargo President Vladimir Putin declared in August on a mass of food products coming from countries that have sanctioned Russia for its annexation of Crimea and support of Ukrainian separatists.
In an average year producers in the European Union send some 1.3 million tonnes of dairy products to Russia, of which 900,000 tonnes is cheese.
While Russian authorities have launched an ambitious, multi-billion euro campaign to expand its food industry, experts are sceptical. In order to meet the country's massive appetite for cheese it must first boost milk production, which is expected to take three years.
Making the task even more difficult is Russia's troubled economy -- signified by a serious slide in the ruble's value this week -- and the challenge of getting access to credit.
On top of that, no one knows when the embargo might end and allow European cheeses to resume their hold on the market.  
In the meantime, entrepreneurs in the Altai mountain range of Siberia are perfecting their versions of Camembert and Roquefort after learning how to craft the cheeses during trips to France.
Meanwhile, a group of monks on Valaam Island in western Russia, near Finland, took a training class in Italy on making Mozzarella and Ricotta and have even bought the equipment needed to produce the cheeses, according to Russian newsite
In an effort to keep up with the demand for cheese, Russia has turned to producers in Serbia, New Zealand and also Switzerland, which was spared the embargo because it does not belong to the EU.
Turning to new suppliers has helped drive a 20-percent jump in prices.
In one smart Moscow cheese shop, the wares on display were around 70 percent Swiss.
"Little Switzerland is having trouble feeding big Russia," said the shop's owner, Alexander Krupietskov.
"There is not enough cheese so Russian suppliers can allow themselves to raise the prices."
Meanwhile, Krupietskov's remaining wheels of genuine, pre-embargo Parmesan have seen their value jump by 120-150 percent.
"It's become cheese that sells at the price of gold," he said.


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