the wonderful roquefort cheese
Wonderful Roquefort cheese

A charity called Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH), have released a report which they say reveals the scandalous amounts of salt “hidden” in cheese.

Salt in our diets has the potential to be a problem. Human beings are adept at using salt within our systems which is a good thing as it naturally occurs in a lot of what we eat.  We seem to thrive on small amounts of salt, but too much can be detrimental to our health, though the exact nature of the issues of strokes and cardiovascular disease remain contentious.

When we process food (not just modern methods, but ancient methods too), salt is invaluable. It works to preserve food like cheeses and hams and has been used as such for over six thousand years. Salt will also improve the flavour of many foods and has a distinctive flavour of its own.

So, it is not a bad thing that campaigning groups like CASH highlight levels of salt in our food, especially as the increase in highly manufactured foods has produced products where the salt level is not always evident by taste alone.

In good cheeses, however, this is quite idiotic.

Salt in cheese is essential, not just for technical production reasons and health & safety, but because it is part of the character of cheese. Cheese lovers will describe cheese by its salt level. Roquefort, for instance, a regulated cheese that can only be produced to a set recipe in a certain area of France, is known for its unique, salty flavour – that is what the cheese is all about.

So, why in publicising their report did CASH decide to announce, “The biggest survey of its kind reveals the alarming amounts of salt hidden in cheese?”

Hidden? Since when has salt been hidden in cheese? It has been part of its manufacturing process for THOUSANDS of years. The whole point of cheese is that you press and salt curdled milk – that is what cheese is. And many cheese will have very high levels of salt – especially beautifully crafted artisan cheeses.

There are two problems here, I suspect.

Firstly a complete ignorance of what cheese is by the writers of the report. Secondly, an assumption that when you buy a wonderful cheese that you eat great big slabs of it at a sitting.

Neither is excusable, but both are probably very common in our modern UK culture where we have become so lamely ignorant of what food is and how it is to be enjoyed.

In promoting this report, the people at CASH would have been far more helpful if they were to announce that perhaps we eat too much cheese at a sitting. That we should abandon cheep nasty versions and stick to the wonderful examples from round our country and round the world, and eat sensible amounts of them, enjoying them to the full without spending a fortune.

That would have been helpful. It would have promoted great food, good dietary practice and a sensible health message.

Instead, they decide to scandalise a 6000 year old product.

I am all for good health information, but when it is couched in such terms as the promotion for this report (bearing in mind that few will read the report itself), it does not inform, it does not help and it just sounds ignorant. I can guarantee that the French government and the licensed producers of Roquefort, a cheese whose origins date back to AD79, will be less than impressed with this report.

I would give you a link to the report, but on their site, the link is going to the wrong document. Sorry. You might try the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-20524931