By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Tangy California cheeses and artisan Mexican beer were the culinary stars of Mexico’s first-ever Cheese Lovers Fest at the capital’s NH Reforma Hotel late last month.
The festival, organized by the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB), was intended to showcase the western U.S. state’s broad range of more than 250 types of cheese and to help open up new markets for California cheese.
California is the largest producer of cheese and dairy products in the United States, accounting for about 20 percent of that nation’s total production of 200 billion pounds of milk each year.
In 2016, Mexico purchased nearly $2.4 billion in powdered milk, cream, cheeses and other dairy products from its northern neighbor.
Dairy farming in California is a major agricultural endeavor, representing $6.2 billion in revenues annually.
Nearly half of all U.S. dairy exports are currently earmarked for Mexico.
But the California Milk Advisory Board thinks that there is room for even more demand in Mexico.
“We know that the per capita consumption of cheese in Mexico is just 3 kilograms, compared to 15 kilograms in the United States,” said CMAB representative Pamela Arozarena during the festival.
“That is why we are presenting high-end cheeses produced from 100 percent pure California milk. Our cheese are not chemically processed and are made under the most rigorous quality norms. We see a great opportunity for growth in the Mexican market.”
But recent anti-Mexican rhetoric from the Donald J. Trump administration and threats from Washington to dump the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have sent some Mexican dairy importers into trade negotiations with alternative sources, including Ireland and News Zealand.
Consequently, the Cheese Lovers Fest was as much an attempt to recourt established Mexican buyers as it was to attract new ones.
Currently, there are more than 1,300 California dairy farms, housing 1.7 million milk cows.
In fact, about one in every five dairy cows in the United States lives in California.
But California cheeses and dairy products stand out for more than their numbers.
California’s milk standards exceed federal standards because California processors add nonfat milk solids, which offer both improved taste and nutritional benefits.
California milk also exceeds U.S. federal guidelines for the amounts of calcium and protein in each serving.
Mexico, which in the United States’ larger international market for dairy products, currently imports about 170 varieties of California cheese.