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Feb 5, 2011 06:46 PM

Why is amercan artisanal cheese so pricy

I was shopping for some cheese yesterday in my local cheese shop in austin, and was somewhat surprised by the bump in prices over the last year (last time I went cheese shopping was about a year ago). Most of the artisanal cheeses were well above $25 a pound, and it seemed like some of the most expensive were american cheeses, with rouge river blue topping out at an incredible (to me) $43/lb!

When I went to switzerland last year, I was able to procure high quality cheese (top notch guyere, alpenzeller and engelberg cheeses) for less than half the prices I'm seeing for good cheese stateside. I can somewhat understand european cheeses being expensive stateside(gotta pay shipping /import taxes,storage, etc.).But then why are american artisanal cheeses equally (or often significantly more) expensive, even though they shouldn't suffer similar costs? Switzerland is atleast as expensive as the US, so I'm having a tough time believing it costs a lot more to make cheese here than europe. Is it just a case of the cheesemongers/cheese producers charging what the market is willing to pay? Or am I missing something?

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  1. I agree with the you, cheese prices have gone up. I used to buy the cheese and specialty foods for a local wine merchant. I found that the local artisanal cheeses were usually twice as much as European cheeses, even the small producer's. One reason is that most local (new england) artisanal cheeses are made in very small batches thereby necessitating a lot more in labor costs. I have also noticed that it seems like some dairies choose to price their products as if they are selling directly to consumers, similar to high prices at farmer's markets. Once a retailer gets the cheese, because of the fact that it is perishable and most cheeses have a short time when they are perfectly ripe, it is marked up 100% or more in some cases. So the $22 a pound that the cheese monger pays for Rogue River Blue becomes $40+ a pound to us consumers.

    6 Replies
    1. re: rhoneranger

      I think that part of the equation is that the artisanal cheesemakers in the US have only been producing for a few years, rather than many years in regards to European makers, so they're still paying off start-up costs.

      1. re: SmartCookie

        Maybe you're right, but what do you think the chances are that prices drop in a few years once these start-up costs are paid off? I say next to none.

        Don't get me wrong, I love the american artisanal cheese movement, but I find it strange that my affordable cheese options have now become European artisanal cheese rather than american ones. Something about that doesn't feel right. Part of me feels that this is just some of these producers taking advantage of the eat local/slow food movement. But then what do I know.

        I'd love for a cheese producer to come here and prove me wrong though. I'm honestly just looking for a plausible reason.

        1. re: sisundar

          So, I am not a cheese producer... though my education and training is in farmstead cheesemaking. The reason is this: even if you are charging $12/pound wholesale and $20/retail it is still a poor business plan.
          Starting a small Cheese producing farm (in Ohio, where I grow vegetables and fruit for a living) that produces about 20,000 pounds per year costs about $200,000 for the facilities, $200,000 dollars for the land (you just about can't rent to make this work), and $25,000 for your animals (cows, for this example). So, you have $425,000 in upfront costs before you have made anything. Then you have the cost of producing the milk which runs about $12/hundred weight, which will end up as $1.20 in milk cost per pound for the cheese.
          After that you have labor, assuming you are making 120 pounds per day (20 milking cows on 20 acres), You will be spending 6 hours (ish) per day (everyday, no weekends) just working with cheese is about $75.30 in labor per 120 pounds and then energy, insurance... you get the picture. You also have to take into account that the cashflow is terrible with cheese needing to age for 60+days for hard cheeses. And there is a ton of risk with a lot of batches not turning out, esp. at the beginning.

          At the end of the day, in my math, I figured that the best case scenario for making farmstead cheese was a $30,000 - $40,000 per year for a 90+hour per week job with a high percentage chance of failure (more than 2/3rds go out in less than five years) was not something that I wanted to do. Esp. since there would never be a vacation.
          You would make more money working double shifts at a McDonalds and probably still work less hours.

          It's also worth noting that French producers get a nice subsidy for keeping their prices low, and quality Italian, Swiss, and British cheese are priced comparably.

        2. re: SmartCookie

          That's a definite factor. I had a conversation with a cheesemonger from a well-known artisinal cheesemaker about why Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk costs more than Epoisses in the U.S. He mentioned repaying start-up costs was a significant factor.

          And that was about Cowgirl Creamery, which has been operating for 20 years. But it probably has expansion costs, as a lot of the successful artisinal cheesemakers in the U.S. are expanding their operations so they can keep up with demand. When I visited Rogue Creamery a few months ago, they had just purchased a new farm to provide a more stable supply of milk and were expanding their production facilities so they can increase the types and quantities of cheese they make.

          By comparison, Epoisses is produced through a syndicate under which one farm and three companies produce Epoisses. They produced 1,296 tonnes in 2012. That's over 2.85 million pounds.

          1. re: Jwsel

            I just bought a small round of Cowgirl Creamery MT TAM Triple Cream for $18.xx from Whole Foods this week. Mostly out of curiosity. It is delicious. I've been enjoying thin slices on toast with slivers of dried figs, walnuts and a touch of honey for breakfast. $18.00 for a small round of cheese that I'll get a few weeks out of. Not a bad deal. The freshness is super. But even if they are expanding operations to keep up with demand the locations through which a customer can buy CC is still small.

            If CC has been operating for 20 years, does my cheese buy even begin to put a dent in their production costs? I've read through their website. CC still seems like a small, proud cheese passionate partnership. I was impressed with the MT TAM enough to remain a customer and try some others by CC a) if I can find it and b) if the expanded operations doesn't change the quality and the price range too much.

            1. re: HillJ

              I really enjoy the Mt Tam and the Red Hawk, which are the most widely available Cowgirl Creamery cheeses, and love the Inverness when my local cheese shop gets it (that's not something Whole Foods will get).

              As I understand things from the Cowgirl Creamery website, it has two production facilities. One is exclusively devoted to Red Hawk, because the bacteria that makes it so good is prevalent at that location. The other facility, which I think is about five years old, makes the other cheeses.

              I have not seen any decline in quality over those years and think Mt Tam compares wonderfully with some of the best triple creme. while Red Hawk does the same to washed rind "stinky" cheeses like Epoisses. The stylistic similarity between Red Hawk and Epoisses is why I drew the price comparison. It struck me as odd that, as a Californian, I could buy a French cheese that, until fairly recently, had sometimes been difficult to find in the US, for less per pound than a similar style cheese that is made in California. But thinking about the capital costs to expand production to a new facility, which is probably being paid off over many years, it does make some sense.

      2. Agree you have noticed something that has been inherent in the business for a long time. l always chalked it off to the USA producers looking for a profit higher than the Europeans and that European workers would work for less than the Americans, but who knows other than it is true. Rogue River Blue, the one of raw milk and wrapped in leaves sells at their own stand in the market of central Portland for $ 55/ lb. when l was there last in 2008.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

          Nice to know it just wasn't my opinion...
          $55/lb! That's an unconscionable price to me ( and it's probably gone up since then, if anything). I do love that cheese, and I understand that it probably costs a lot more than supermarket cheese to make, but that's still ridiculous. It's not like they're stuffing multiple grams of truffles or something in each round, and grape leaves aren't THAT expensive...

          1. re: sisundar

            Yes, $55/lb. IS unconscionable, especially since this market is in Rogue River's home state. Typically, we see prices, even on the East coast, in the $40-45 range for this cheese. For a truly fantastic price, check out Gourmet Library: $29.99/lb.!


        2. You aren't the only person to be puzzled by the high prices charged for many American artisanal cheeses. To understand why these cheeses can be so expensive consider the following:

          1. In Europe, there is subsizidation for small farms and their products. In the US, there isn't any.

          2. Most American artisanal cheese creameries are very small. Many of our best cheeses are made at a single farm, either from the farmer's own milk or from the milk of one or a small number of neighboring farms. That's true for some European cheeses as well, but many of the best known ones are made in substantially larger quantities, e.g., Gruyere, Roquefort, Comte, Parmigiano Reggiano. The costs of making such cheeses can be spread over a much larger volume.

          3. The American artisanal cheese movement is young. It barely existed 20 years ago. By contrast, many well known European cheeses have been around for centuries. American cheesemakers have recently had to invest in expensive equipment just to get started and to meet stringent regulatory standards. These costs are included in what consumers pay.

          4. Many American cheesemakers prefer not to have their cheeses (mis)handled by large distributors/wholesalers, but to sell directly to retail shops. When a shop purchases a small quantity of cheese from a cheesemaker, the shipping cost is passed on the consumers.

          5. American cheesemakers who aspire to sell their cheeses outside of their local area start from a position of being completely unknown. Almost everyone who likes good cheese has heard of gruyere. How many have heard of Ocooch Mountain? Cheesemakers must bear significant costs to get on the radar: visiting retailers across the country, developing marketing materials, attending local, regional and national competitions and other events, etc. Such costs are reflected in the price.

          5. The law of supply and demand may be a factor in pushing up the price in some cases. Cheeses like Rogue River Blue, Vermont Shepherd and Pleasant Ridge Reserve, which have won prestigious national (and, in the case of Rogue River Blue, international) awards are in short supply and available at only a limited number of highly respected retailers. A retailer in a particular area may be the only one who has the cheese--and possibly only at certain time of the year--so if you, as a customer, want it, you'll have to pay what the store asks to buy it.

          6. The notion that European = affordable and American = sky high is simplistic. There are many small production European cheeses and ones that have been aged by famous affineurs that are every bit as expensive as cheeses made in the US. You mentioned Switzerland. Take a look at the lesser known, but exceptional cheeses, being aged by Rolf Beeler and/or imported by Carolyn Hostettler. Many of these are selling in the $35-$50 range. Artisanal in NYC recently sold Blaui Geiss, a goat's milk blue, for almost $70/lb.! Similarly, quality British cheeses exported by Neal's Yard Dairy are expensive in the US. Portuguese cheeses are almost all expensive. There are cheeses made in other European countries--France, Italy, Spain, etc. that also fit the pattern. On the other hand, there are many very good American cheeses that are not priced stratospherically, for example, Grayson, a terrific washed rind cheese from Virginia. It's not exactly cheap, but it's a lot less expensive than Rogue River Blue.

          20 Replies
          1. re: cheesemaestro

            Another point to consider is as follows. Most of of the European cheeses are defined by a type, not a maker on the markert. That is you are going to buy say a piece of AOC Brie de Maux, you are getting a cheese made within the Brie de Meux's officially sanctioned area by its officially sanctioned parameters, but there are numerous cheesemakers in that region who can meet those needs and to a lot of the cheese distributors so long as those paramaters are met, the actual farm of origin is irrelevant. If I live in Brie de Maux's officially sanctioned production zone and follow the brie recipe I have the right to call my cheese Brie de Meax. If my neighbor does the same, so is he, and his is no less Brie de Meux than mine. There are some exceptions, cheeses that are unique to a given farm or cheesemaker and are noted as such, but even those are mostly from big producers, or we proably would never know of them (actually given the current American cheese important rules, we almost certainly wouldn't, as some of the parameters for import are ones that it would be financially difficult for any but the biggest producers to meet. If you only produce 5-6 cheeses a month, none of them are likey to get out into the export market.)
            In contrast, most of the american artisnal cheeses are unique to thier farm and are kept so by trademark. No one can make Rouge river Blue except Rouge River Creamery, No one can make Cayuga Blue except Lively Run etc. Even the recepie and method is in some cases proprietary and trademarked, I'm not sure any other cheesemaker could wrap a goat cheese in bourbon soaked leaves to age it without risking a lawsuit from Capriole for plagarizing O' Banon. This tends to make a lot of of cheeses each of which has a very small production, which makes for high prices.

            1. re: jumpingmonk

              Europeans have traditionally placed a high value on a food's place of origin. Indeed, many traditional cheeses were given their name from the town or region in which they were made or aged. This isn't necessarily related to official protective geographical designations like AOC and PDO, as these were established much later. Think of Lancashire, Red Leicester, and Cheddar in England (although cheddar isn't made in the village of Cheddar) and Fourme d'Ambert, Cantal and Roquefort in France. As you point out, there are often multiple producers in an area whose cheeses go by the same name. Despite this, there is evidence that increasingly knowledgeable American consumers are beginning to make distinctions among the various producers. Let's take Stilton and Roquefort--two PDO cheeses--as examples. There are six authorized producers of Stilton and an approximately equal number (seven, I think) of Roquefort. Ten years ago, most customers would ask simply for Stilton or Roquefort. Now some are asking for Colston Bassett Stilton, which they perceive to be superior to the Stilton made by Long Clawson, Cropwell Bishop or any of the other makers; and for Carles or Vieux Berger Roquefort, generally considered to be the two best producers. Demand for the best has enabled the premium producers to charge significantly more than others perceived to be lower on the quality scale. This hasn't happened with all European regional cheeses made by more than one cheesemaker, but it is certainly a factor for some.

              There is another approach to cheesemaking that doesn't exist in the US: the collective system. In this system, a network of dairy farms and cheesemakers combine to enable a large volume of cheese to be made. Good examples of this are Comte and Parmigiano Reggiano. The milk of over 100,000 cows from dairy farms within a designated geographical area is delivered to about 175 cheesmaking operations (called fruitieres) that turn out well over a million 90 lb. wheels of Comte each year. I can't recall the numbers for Parm, but the idea is similar. Much of this cheese is of good quality and some is of stellar quality. Nothing remotely like this exists in the US, unless we are talking about the big industrial cheesemakers like Kraft (where the numbers are even higher) that produce commodity cheese. Even in this model, consumers are beginning to make distinctions and exhibit preferences. A few makers and affineurs of Parm, like Bonati and Guffanti, have "branded" their wheels of cheese and are charging accordingly. For Comte, what we're seeing is representatives of top quality shops and wholesalers traveling to France and hand selecting wheels with particular flavor characteristics that are then brought back to the US for sale. So while the average piece of Comte sells for a relatively affordable price, the pieces taken from the specially selected wheels sell for much more.

              I don't agree with your statement that the cheeses that are unique to a given farm or cheesemaker in Europe are mostly from big producers. There are many single producer cheeses sold only in the local marketplace, as is the case in America. We don't get them over here, so we haven't heard about them. Even that is changing, as Americans learn more about cheese and demand an ever increasing variety of it. Until a few years ago, when people talked about Swiss cheeses, they could tick off the ones available in the US on fewer than the fingers of two hands (Emmenthaler, Gruyere, Appenzeller, etc.). These are all large production cheeses by Swiss standards. Now, fueled by well heeled customers' desire to try new cheeses and the money to pay extra for them, dozens of wonderful cheeses from small cheesemakers in Switzerland are being imported into the US on a limited basis. Similar things are happening with exceptional cheeses made in other countries. As expected, these cheeses are almost all expensive. Small production usually equals a higher price, whether it's an American cheese or a European cheese.

              You raise an interesting issue concerning the uniqueness of a particular cheese and whether it can legally be imitated. I'm not sure that trademarking cheeses is as prevalent as you assume it is. It's also not clear to me how much, beyond the name of a cheese, can be trademarked. Specific recipes may be proprietary, but let's face it, there are thousands of different cheeses made on the planet and they can't all be unique in every respect. Would someone other than Capriole wrapping a cheese in bourbon soaked leaves be enough to justify a defensible lawsuit? I doubt it. What if it's a different kind of leaf? What if the cheese under the leaves is different? Then there is the question of terroir, i.e., that a cheese is unique to its place of origin--to the plants that the animal eats, to the ambient bacteria and molds in the air, to the climate, and so on. If you believe in terroir, then you likely believe that two cheeses made in different places, even if made to the same recipe, will not come out the same. There hasn't been much case law to test when imitation of a particular cheese or style of cheese becomes outright plagiarism.

              1. re: cheesemaestro

                Allow me to clarify a few points.

                I didn't say that all European cheeses unique to a given farm were from big producers, I said that most cheeses unique to a given farm that we would bump into here probably are; the economics of shipment plus some of the rules the USDA requires cheeses to pass before they will allow them in makes it so. If some farmer in Europe has production so small that he is only making a dozen or so cheeses a season and he sells eats eight of them typically himself, the other four are not likey to come over here, no company or cheese shop is going to accept a stand alone order that small. Those cheeses will either be sold locally or to someone who will pool them with similar neigboring cheeses and brand them all as the same thing.
                I agree that conditions have chaged enough to make a lot of smaller production cheeses more available.

                As for the plagarism thing, I agree it get's a little grey. Certainly the basic recipies of most cheeses are by now all but pubic domain common knowledge and a person could proabably get very close to a given farms cheese by pure trial and error. It's the question of little quirks that get into the grey zone, cases where a given innovation is aknowledges as having been uniquely created by a given maker. Capriole is generally aknowledged to have come up with the idea of using burbon istead of the tradiontal eau de vie or brandy on the leaf, so if someone down the road (especially some big cheese factory designing to swamp the market) suddenly decied to start making little goat cheeses wrapped in leaves and soaking the leaves in burbon, Capriole might have ground.
                And yes terrior does play a big part. Two cheeses made in seperate areas can probably never be the same. In fact two cheeses made on the same farm are likey never to be the same; in the case of true farmhouse cheese, each cheese will likely be sligtly different than each other. Indeed if it wasn't for the nightmare it would cause in the market, I would imagine that in the case of selected cheeses (like your comte) prices might vary on a wheel by wheel basis, where a wheel judged exceptional would command a higer price than a wheel from the same farm and batch that was judges as being less good. Likewise following in the concept of the "single barrel bourbon" I can imagine some enteprising farmer offering "single animal cheese" cheese which , as part of it's recepie, had each wheel was made from the milk of only one single animal produced in one single milking (by neccecity this could only be done with fairly small cheeses) (okay maybe that's a little silly) .

                1. re: jumpingmonk

                  You're right that we have to distinguish between small producers and really small producers, who don't make enough cheese to export or even to sell outside of their local area in their own country. It's also inaccurate to think that every producer has aspirations of going outside their own locality. Many do not and some are vehement in their desire to sell exclusively in their local marketplace.

                  On the "copycat" issue, I think that almost all producers in the American artisanal cheese community respect their fellow cheesemakers' creativity and accomplishments and wouldn't dream of appropriating what is rightfully someone else's. I don't see a big potential problem there. I suppose I could envision a big industrial cheese company without a moral conscience copying a small creamery's cheese, but the end product would undoubtedly be inferior.

                  I recall one case of plagiarism that resulted in litigation. Bingham Hill, a creamery in Colorado that had crafted several award-winning cheeses, was forced to close after it ran into financial difficulties. (It had previously built a bigger facility and ramped up production to be able to supply Trader Joe's stores. Trader Joe's decision to drop their cheese was what precipitated the closure.) After BH shut its doors, a former employee was hired by another Colorado cheesemaker. Shortly afterward, that cheesemaker introduced cheeses that were very similar to ones that BH had made. The employee, who had access to BH's recipes when he was working there, had obviously taken them and given them to his new employer. BH's owners sued and won their case, and the other cheesemaker was enjoined from selling cheeses based on BH's recipes. (I believe there were also monetary damages.) The fact that BH had closed wasn't an issue, as they still existed legally as a business (albeit one no longer operating), could have reopened at a future date (they didn't), and could have profited from the goodwill of their name to sell the recipes to a reputable cheesemaker, if they so chose. In this instance, the legal case was a slam dunk based on the brazen theft of another cheesemaker's proprietary recipes. However, you and I both agree that that it would be more of a gray area if a cheesemaker simply imitated one or more components of another cheesemaker's product, without copying the actual recipe in all respects.

                  1. re: cheesemaestro

                    I think a similar case occured over in my neck of the woods when Egg Farm Dairy closed down (due, I expect, to a horrible deal with Homarus Inc. itself only a shadow of what it once was) and some of it's employees webt ti Hawthone Valley Farm upstate. This in that case, they may have actually simply bought the recipes.

                    I sometimes think that Sidehill Acres might fit into the "Local only" mold, they do not seem eager to sell outside the Finger Lakes area (though they will do mail order so, Places like Murray's, Artisinal Cheese, and Safeway do not as yet carry them, to my constant suffering (thier Folie Berge is, in my opinion the equal, if not the superior, of all but the finest of the semi-hard to hard sheep milks cheeses in all of Italy, France, and Spain, at a fraction of the price.)

                    1. re: jumpingmonk

                      I need to get back to the Finger Lakes region this year and check out all of the cheesemakers there. The wines aren't bad either! I'm only a few hours away (central PA).

                      Are you familiar with the New York Farmstead and Artisan Cheesemakers Guild's website? It has information on cheesemakers across the state.


                      1. re: cheesemaestro

                        Whne your are there, finding the above cheese is ridiculously easy, the have a stand at most of the weekly farmer's markets and if for some reason you can't make it to one of those, it's sold at all of the Green Star Co-ops, so you just have to find one of those (I know there is (or was) one in Ithaca, but I think they are sprinkled around. Fill up on Cayga blue as well, while that is availabe many places now, it's a lot cheaper close to home. Plus you can find the OTHER goat cheeses around at the markets, though to be honest I cant really recommend any of those (The creamy "feta" is okay but really is more along the lines of a super salty fresh chevre than actual feta. The other goat cheese they make on the other hand, suffer from basically having no salt at all. Great for one's health, I think, but lousy for the taste.)

                        1. re: jumpingmonk

                          Thanks for the tips. Cayuga Blue is the one Finger Lakes cheese I'm familiar with. I may have tasted others from the region at a previous American Cheese Society meeting, but none has stuck in my memory.

                    2. re: cheesemaestro

                      I dont' understand how that case was won. Even following the exact same recipe, the cheese, or any other product, would vary unless all other conditions were equal, including the milk, the water, the atmospheric pressure. Surprising.

                    3. re: jumpingmonk

                      Given how long O'Banon has been on the market (20+years), even if the recipe was patented, the patent has long expired.

                      The distinction that we make between different farms here in the US is more of an artifact of us not having a centuries old tradition of farmstead cheesemaking (because we all but killed the industry during WW2).

                      In France, "Fermier" (Farm made) cheeses are a big thing and get a considerable premium in price over industrially produced cheeses. But they don't distinguish between producers because, to use St. Nectaire as an example, there are dozens of producers that make small amounts but belong to a marketing consortium. So each makes a relatively small amount, but in aggregate they can market a larger amount and access international markets.

                    4. re: cheesemaestro

                      Cabot is certainly a collective. And, there are others which escape me for the moment.

                      1. re: Savorytart

                        On your first post: This was an open-and-shut case involving blatant theft of a business's proprietary recipes by a former employee. He then gave these recipes to his new employer, who used them to make cheeses that were nearly identical to the ones Bingham Hill (BH) had created. This was done without BH's knowledge, without its authorization, and without the new company paying anything to BH for the right to use its recipes, despite BH having originally spent a lot of time and money to develop the recipes. The crime is crystal clear to me. What about this situation don't you understand?

                        On your second post: Yes, Cabot is a collective (or, more properly, a cooperative). It is somewhat unusual in that its cheeses range widely from basic supermarket quality products to its distinctive Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, which is now aged in the caves at Jasper Hill Farm and won best in show several years ago at the American Cheese Society's annual competition. There are numerous dairy cooperatives in the US besides Cabot, some of which also make cheese. However, most of these are geared to commodity products and are less tightly controlled than European cooperative structures that produce high quality cheeses like Comté and Parmigiano Reggiano. American dairy cooperatives collect milk from a large number of farms in a large geographic area, even nationwide, as if the case with Land O' Lakes. Their products are made in large industrial plants. By way of contrast, the milk for Comté also comes from a large number of farms, but they are located within a tightly defined geographic area and must conform to stringent rules concerning the cleanliness, age and transport of their milk to the cheesemaking facilities, which, unlike American factories, are for the most part, family-run operations that turn out a small number of wheels of cheese a day.

                  2. re: cheesemaestro

                    Thanks for the detailed post; it was very educational and answered many of my questions about pricing. One of the key components to this pricing conundrum seems to be that many european cheeses sold here are just manufactured in much larger quantities than american artisanal cheese.

                    You mentioned that a lot of small production european cheeses are being sold here in the US for high prices too; I probably don't see many of them by virtue of my location (austin). Do you happen to know if their prices in europe are similarly high (i.e. would a small batch local artisanal cheese cost the equivalent of $40-50/lb in say france or switzerland?). I admit that I haven't done much research on this, but the conversations I've had with my european colleagues in general indicates significant sticker shock at the price of artisanal cheese here.

                    1. re: sisundar

                      Yes, the cheeses that we pay dearly for here in the US cost much less in their countries of origin. In addition to the factors I enumerated in my first post (subsidization, etc.) that bear on this issue, I can add a couple of others. First, the dollar has been weakening against the Euro for several years, which means that everything coming from the European Union is considerably more expensive than it used to be. So the exchange rate is a big factor. Second, there are huge costs associated with export/import vs. selling locally: shipping, loss of cheese that doesn't arrive in good condition, payment of middlemen (sorry, "middlepersons" sounds ridiculous!), etc. Think of the chain of entities involved in getting a cheese to the US: a European cheesemaker sells his cheese to a representative who may then deal with an exporter who sells it to a wholesaler who sells it to a distributor who sells it to a retailer who sells it to the customer. Perhaps one or two of these steps are omitted in some transactions, but there are many more people taking a "cut" in this process than one in which the cheesemaker sells directly to consumers or sells to a retailer who sells to consumers. A third factor is that the most prestigious and expensive cheeses tend to be sold in US cities that have a large enough contingent of people who are cheese fanatics, who have money and are willing to pay for great food. Such people are not fazed when they see cheese selling for $30 or $40 a pound or even more and they don't agonize over whether they are getting good value for their money. If they want it, they buy it. Of course, that's not everyone, but cities like New York and San Francisco, where the cost of doing business is very high and also adds into the price, have enough people willing to pay the price for exquisite cheeses.

                      You might ask what happens to the price when an American-made cheese is sold overseas. Traditionally, Europeans have been biased against our cheeses. ("We've been making cheese for hundreds of years and you've just started. Your cheeses can't possibly be as good.") That attitude still persists, but a couple of award-winning cheeses, the aforementioned Rogue River Blue and Pleasant Ridge Reserve, are now being exported to England and sold at Neal's Yard Dairy in London. Even though these are expensive cheeses in the US, I've heard that they are much more so over there.

                      1. re: sisundar

                        After being given a substantial lesson by cheesemaestro, I should thank that a very humble, "thank you," was the most you should reply. Question for you: Do you seek artisanal cheese because you enjoy eating it, or because it is "artisanal." And, you are in Austin. A city with great food resources, including artisanal cheese. It sounds as though you wish to be in Europe with your collegeagues. Seriously.

                        One of the finest, no, THE finest, goat cheeses I've ever eaten came from Dripping Springs.

                        Additionally, a cheesemaker who wishes to purchase very fine milk is also going to pay the dairy farmer a significantly better price than that farmer would ordinarily receive.

                        One more point: Retailers are well aware of the pricing snobbery so rampant in the U.S. If the price isn't high enough, it must not be good, right? No such thing as a very good bottle of wine for under $8.00, sort of mentality.

                        1. re: Savorytart

                          I'm not really sure why you chose to take up a snippy tone with your post here. I did acknowledge the fact that cheesemaestro had provided some very helpful posts, and I was simply curious as to how the "math" worked out with respect to small volume american cheeses vs small volume/batch european cheeses.

                          I chose "artisanal" simply as a label to indicate delicious cheese made with care and attention. I'm not sure as to how else I should have phrased it. My purchasing decisions are simply made on the basis of what value I perceive for the price I pay. I don't see why asking the question about the cost of american cheese vs european cheese should make me someone who is into artisanal cheese for the snob factor.

                          The pointed comment about european fanboyism barely deserves a comment, yet I feel obliged to reply.As a first generation immigrant from asia to the united states, I have a great appreciation for this country, it's people, drive and ambition - far greater I feel than many people who have lived their whole life here. I resent the implication that I'm trying to denigrade the american cheese industry - far from it.

                          And yes, the Pure Luck chevres are superb (i'm assuming that's the goat cheese you're taking about), as is Rouge River Blue. The entire discussion was about production and distribution costs, not the quality of cheese.

                          Sure, milk costs could be a factor(though I imagine that scales with labor costs, which I don't think are much (if at all) lower in europe). Care to share any numbers?

                          Finally, is your claim that american retailers deliberately price up the the best tasting american cheeses to be more expensive to cater to price snobbery? If they wanted to do that, why not mark up the european cheeses to an equivalent price?

                          1. re: sisundar

                            Sisundar, you did not appear ungrateful to me, nor snobbish. On the contrary, you thanked me for the information I provided. There's nothing you should feel bad about, and your question was a good one. It seems that Savorytart's challenges are meant to "stir the pot."

                            Artisanal cheesemakers consider it critical to use the best quality milk, and such milk, if not coming from their own herd, costs more to purchase than run-of-the-mill milk. It's one factor among many others that contribute to the price of their cheese, but can't, by itself, explain why a cheese commands a high price.

                            As to snobbery/exclusivity driving the high prices charged for many US-made cheeses, I can't rule it entirely out, but I doubt it is a major factor. In a long post earlier in this thread, I tried to outline the factors that contribute most to the price of cheeses, so I have little reason to repeat myself here.

                            1. re: cheesemaestro

                              Thanks for the support; I appreciate it. Your (and other people's) posts helped explain a lot of the difference to me. I guess was comparing smaller companies that were new (startup costs) to larger producers who were more established. Makes sense that there would be a price difference. The distribution chain difference (direct vs wholesale) was an interesting point as well.

                            2. re: sisundar

                              "I chose "artisanal" simply as a label to indicate delicious cheese made with care and attention"

                              And if there were any sort of requirement that this were true, artisanal would mean something. .However, the word has no meaning when it comes to labeling foods as "artisinal".

                              "is your claim that american retailers deliberately price up the the best tasting american cheeses to be more expensive to cater to price snobbery?"

                              Not the retailers, the producers.

                              1. re: FrankJBN

                                I disagree about "artisanal." Just because some people and businesses misappropriate the word (think Dunkin Donuts selling its "artisanal bagels")), doesn't mean that there isn't a correct way to use it. "Artisanal" refers properly to something made with great care by hand. There are many cheeses that fit that definition, as well as many others that don't. The use of the word is well accepted in the cheese world and used by cheesemakers, cheesemongers and customers alike. There is even a book written by a well regarded cheese expert (Jeff Roberts) with the title "Atlas of American Artisan Cheese."

                      2. I recall the first time I placed a wholesale cheese order for order for my then new SoCal wine and cheese shop from a maker/broker in Northern California. The price of the cheese was about $300 ($12/lb.) and the shipping cost (for just 25 lbs) was almost $150 for next day delivery. Second day was about $100. So $300 became $450, became $800 ($32/lb.) or so to the customer.

                        I later found a nearby distributor who delivered for nothing with a minimum order I could handle. But he took a profit on the wholesale, so that $32 was pretty much the same either way. The difference with the distributor was that he would cut wheels so I didn't have to buy so much and risk too much spoilage. That's the thing with cheese............ it doesn't last that long in many cases, so the retailer has a loss factor to consider when pricing.

                        1. The Taylor Farm vermont gouda, which is right nice, is only $14/lb...its a good product. Cannot speak to their other offerings.