Cheese in China

Cheese has only recently been making its way to restaurant menus in Hong Kong, despite the great success of other European products such as fine wine and chocolate. Part of the challenge in promoting cheese may be the large number of lactose intolerant Chinese. The authorized government information centre claims that around 90% population is estimated to be lactose intolerant , lacking enzymes that normally digest lactose in the body.

China’s milk industry itself is also struggling to restore consumer confidence, with the scandal in 2008 when industrial chemical melamine was found laced in milk and infant formula, killing at least 6 children and making nearly 300,00 ill, according to Reuters . This month alone, Chinese company Bright Dairy & Food Co Ltd has been ordered by the Shanghai government to recall a cheese product for babies from all supermarket and convenience store shelves, as it included a banned additive. Just last week, they were forced to recall batches of sour milk.

However, the cheese industry in Mainland China looks to be increasing in popularity, with Chinese cheese connoisseur Liu Yang opening up his shop in Beijing in 2009 and finding his clientele now consisting of 50% foreigners and 50% locals. Hong Kong’s ‘cheese scene’ is equally vibrant with shops like Classified that have cheese cellars and more recently, the celebration of cheese organized by the Hullet House. Launched last year in 2011, the Hullet House’s Cheese Festival returned again last week from the 20th to the 24th of September 2012. The event showcased over 80 specially selected gourmet European cheeses and held cheese workshops, wine and cheese tastings, gourmet cheese dinners and a 2 day “European style” cheese market. The 5 day event focused on specialty French and Italian cheeses that have not been shown in Hong Kong before, according to the Hullet House event organizers.

Wasabique, a creamy goat’s cheese blended with Japanese wasabi

The festival showed innovative French cheeses such as “Wasabique”, a creamy goat’s cheese blended with Japanese wasabi, to a soft, sweet Parmesan from Italian producer Giorgio Cravero, instead of the usual hard, dry version. Master Cheese Makers were present as well, such as Philippe Marchand from France, head of one of the oldest cheese refineries in Nancy whose history can be traced back since 1880. Michelin-starred Executive Chef Philippe Orrico also presented a series of creative menus featuring the specialty cheeses, carefully pairing them with fine wines and Scotch whiskies to highlight the tastes and textures of each cheese.

Master Cheese Maker Philippe Marchand

Despite increased awareness, most Chinese consumers still do not know what is real cheese, says Liu. “Most Chinese people think cheese is for pizza.” However, events like this along with tastings and educational seminars are creating a group of cheese lovers in Hong Kong and China despite the challenge of having a large lactose intolerant population. Cheese may be the new chic food category to watch for the newly wealthy Chinese.

Photos credit to Hullet House