Newspaper article International New York Times

Few Winners in Russian Embargo

Newspaper article International New York Times

Few Winners in Russian Embargo

Article excerpt

Consumers lose amid Moscow's war with European food products.

Russia is at war with European food products. That much was made clear last month when TV crews filmed bulldozers carrying out an offensive against mountains of contraband Western cheeses that had slipped across Russian borders in violation of a year-old embargo.

But that doesn't mean that Russian consumers can't find happiness on the supermarket shelf in the form of their favorite cheeses.

The only condition is that these be produced in Russia or a "neutral" country -- and not in the European Union, the United States or Canada, all of which fell under the Russian ban imposed in retaliation for Western sanctions.

Here are a few anomalies found on a recent shopping spree: Hungarian smoked cheese, produced in the Russian region of Bashkortostan; a Camembert, produced in Krasnodar, in the country's southwestern region; a Bulgarian Brinza produced in the Penza region; and a Cheddar, produced by a company called Chizzi in the Moscow region.

There is nothing illegal about most of this, except, perhaps, the Camembert, sold here in the round box that distinguishes the creamy cheese from Normandy, which, in theory, enjoys protected status.

Otherwise, Brinza, Cheddar, even Dutch cheeses like Edam and Gouda -- these are names that indicate a type of cheese, not a brand, which can be made anywhere.

Whether these Russian knockoffs actually resemble the original is a matter of dispute.

A recent taste test conducted by The Guardian, a British newspaper, found that Chizzi's Cheddar didn't pass muster.

Shaun Walker, the correspondent in Moscow, wrote there was "nothing particularly disgusting about it. It just doesn't taste of anything at all." He compared it to a cheesy version of Russia's mild-mannered prime minister, Dmitri A. Medvedev -- "inoffensive and vaguely pointless. …

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