Dairy farmers who sell handcrafted cheese at New York farmer's markets say the state is taking the art and the ease out of artisanal cheese.
Under a new interpretation of food-processing regulations by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, vendors at open-air stands must sell only pre-wrapped cheese, rather than cutting off a wedge from a wheel of Cheddar or Gouda.
Cheryl Huber, assistant director of New York City's Greenmarket, which runs farmers markets in all five boroughs, said Greenmarket learned of the reinterpretation last winter.
The rules say that open-air vendors can only slice their cheese to order if they have an enclosed space and a three-compartment sink with hot and cold running water.
"We have been in many conversations with the state and look forward to further discussion," Huber said.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture and Markets did not return several calls and emails Tuesday seeking an explanation for the change.
But cheese vendors said the state rules are hurting their business.
"Who wants to buy prepackaged artisanal cheese?" said Eran Wajswol of Valley Shepherd Creamery in Long Valley, N.J., who sells at several New York farmers markets. "For us it was what I call a game-ender." Wajswol said that after inspectors shut down his stand at the Union Square Greenmarket last month, he tried pre-wrapping more than a dozen kinds of cheese.
"Sales were down 70 percent," he said.