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Russia's Food Import Ban Is a Horror Story for Cheese

Published: August 14, 2014 (Issue # 1824)



  • Russia had been importing 30 percent of its cheese from countries hit by the ban. Many Dutch, French and Italian cheeses could disappear from stores.
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

When Russia banned food imports from Western countries last week, cheese-lovers were horrified. In the upcoming decimation of consumer choice, the cheese shelves looked particularly vulnerable. Camembert, Parmesan, Edam, Cheddar — all would be swept away, leaving behind only their bland, rubbery, plastic-wrapped Russian peers.

But the supermarket shelves are unlikely to empty completely. Over two decades of capitalism, Russian cheese makers have learned that European lookalike branding sells. That Italian-looking mozzarella that you've been buying all this time? It turns out it was made in Russia. Choice will take a hit, but not collapse. Only the top, authentic brands will disappear.

But prices are likely to rise across the board. According to a government report obtained by ITAR-Tass, when Russia retaliated to the sanctions of Western countries — designed to force Russia to abandon support for separatist rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine — with food import bans against them, it cut the supply of 30 percent of the cheese consumed in Russia, or 263,000 tons per year.

That volume will need replacing, either with new imports or domestic production. But whole milk already costs 30 percent more in Russia than in Europe, the head of dairy manufacturer Umalat, Alexei Martynenko, told Vedomosti this week. And the price is likely to rise. Demand for milk from Russian cheese-makers seeking to boost production will jump, just as supply falls — Russia produces less milk than it uses, and milk imports from Europe also come under the ban.

So as a milk supply pinch sharpens a cheese supply pinch, even the mass of low-income Russians — for whom the loss of authentic French Brie is more a welcome slap in the face for rich liberal urban elites than an infringement on their shopping habits — will be hit by price rises.

Swiss Bonanza

Despite their arsenals of famous cheese names, France and Italy supply only 2 percent of Russia's total cheese imports. Indeed, Russia's 140 million inhabitants consume only 10 tons of high-end hard cheese each month, Martynenko said.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at today’s Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nation’s premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the city’s elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s latest film “Mommy” at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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