"Some may say, 'I like Champagne, but I change for sparkling wine' and go for $15 Chandon of California. 'I still have bubbles and a good party.' But some people would say, 'No, I will continue to buy Champagne.' That is the same thing for Roquefort."
One congressman, Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), sent a letter to President Obama last month, criticizing the trade action.
"Though I am a supporter of 'buy American,' it is for unfairly subsidized foreign products when they are identical or comparable to ours," Oberstar wrote. "Roquefort cheese is not in this category."
Oberstar says he has not received a response.
The lack of public protest has surprised chef Conny Andersson of AK Restaurant in Venice. "It's like no other cheese," says Andersson, who has had a mesclun salad with Arkansas black apples and Papillon Black Label Roquefort on his menu since he opened in December, a month before the new levy was announced. "There should be some kind of chef movement against it." He plans to continue serving it until his current $17-a-pound wholesale price goes up.
In the meantime, the Confederation of Roquefort plans to release a television ad promoting the cheese within France, as well as develop other foreign markets. The U.S. is the No. 3 importer of Roquefort behind Spain and Germany.
It may not be all bad news. Hastings of Joan's on Third sees an opportunity for artisanal blue-cheese makers that have blossomed stateside in the last 10 years. "I would never stoop to think any of us could re-create the flavor of a Jacques Carles [the producer of L'Aigle Noir], but if times are hard and we're not able to afford it, we'll dig deep and make it our own way," he says. "Rogue River Blue from Oregon is an incredible blue [albeit from cow's milk].
"It's the classic great American know-how. We can't have it right now, but it doesn't mean we'll go without."