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Cheesed Off

Every day another foodstuff is consigned to the compost heap, its reputation besmirched by one damning comparison: ‘that’s more salt than in a bag of crisps’. Hasn’t it occurred to anybody else that maybe crisps aren’t that salty after all? A bag of Walkers seems a rather arbitrary yardstick for any scientific experiment, but then I never really understood science at school, so what would I know? Anyway, the latest victim of this smear campaign is cheese, and in particular cheddar, which is high in ‘hidden salt’. Or at least according to Katharine Jenner, from the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) interviewed on the Today program, who’s been entertaining herself reading a comprehensive, comparative study of cheeses available in Britain Sounds riveting.

‘Hidden salt’. Honestly, I ask you. Such a patronising phrase that. To be honest it’s no surprise to me that cheese is salty, but maybe I’m a rare member of the initiated when it comes to salt. How exciting. Not for much longer, since Ms Jenner wants to widen the membership of this apparently elitist group. Soon enough they’ll be letting anyone in. Not like the old days at all. She reckons the information contained in the aforementioned study should be made more widely available to the public.

CASH (no, I really didn’t make that up- they want government to start enacting their policies) also wants to put cheese manufacturers under pressure to decrease the salt content in their cheeses. What she seems not to have understood is that cheese isn’t salty for reasons of taste, but for food safety: salt acts as an essential preservative in the maturing process. Cheese manufacturers may well be able to take to the labs to contrive a new salt-free means of achieving the same effect, but I’d be less comfortable eating a chemically preserved product than one preserved using a traditional, time-tested method. And no matter what proud claims about the ‘same great taste’ that manufacturers might put on the front of their new ‘lo-salt’ (don’t get me started on the apparent inability to use ‘low’ in these instances) products, a cheese and pickle sandwich leaves a funny taste in the mouth when you know that at some level, government has decided what you should and should not put in your mouth.

What I don’t understand is why CASH thinks people are incapable of reading the back of a packet of cheese, which states very clearly the salt content. People who are sufficiently bothered about their diet to consult a study on salt levels are surely capable of flipping over a packet? Yes, cheeses from independent shops might not have this information displayed on them, but isn’t that part of their charm? It makes them seem less mass-produced, more authentic. It would be a terribly boring- and not to mention unhealthily food-obsessed- world if everything was measured to the milligram, wouldn’t it? But if you really can’t bear not to know the exact content, just stick to the cheeses available at the supermarket, which will all have their salt content on the back. If you ask me you’ll be missing out on some excellent cheeses, but at least you’ll be able to make sure you never eat more salt than a bag of crisps.

BY: Kirstin fairnie