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The Illegal Cheese Incident

By Amanda Dickman in Food on Mar 23, 2007 9:20PM

appenzeller.jpgChicagoist is really into cheese. From your basic shredded cheddar to the fancy unpasteurized Cave Aged Swiss Guyere, our love knows no bounds.

Delicious as they may be, those unpasteurized cheeses are a fickle thing. On the one hand, they generally have more flavor than their processed counterparts, but they can also put one at risk of picking up a nasty strain of bacteria.

Just ask the folks out in Kane County who are sick due to salmonella. Officials there are blaming the outbreak on Mexican-style cheeses after a sample from a grocery store in Aurora tested positive for the bacteria. The manufacturer of the tainted cheese has not been identified.

The state public health director, Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, issued a warning yesterday about the dangers of consuming illegally manufactured Mexican-style cheeses (such as queso fresco or queso cotija). He also urges consumers to purchase only packaged cheeses that come from licensed manufacturers, i.e. don't buy a package of queso fresco from a street vendor or grocery store with no label, or one that has a label that looks as if it was fashioned by hand or rudimentary word processing software.

From the looks of things, this doesn't seem to be a case of a little spoiled cheese. According to Paul Kuehnert with the county Health Department, they have "uncovered an illegal cheese manufacturing and distribution operation." There is also speculation that people are illegally making the cheese in their home with unpasteurized milk.

And it's happening elsewhere, too. These illegal cheese operations (dare we say, speakcheesies?), found mostly in Latino communities, have been the cause of salmonella outbreaks in other states.

Image via igourmet.