Switzerland is widely known as a destination for locally produced luxury goods. With an abundance of high quality cheese, chocolate, and watches that people travel across the globe to experience, one would think that locals would embrace their home country’s delicacies. But according to a report from Swiss newspaper Le Temps, Switzerland will import more cheese than they’ll export this year — for the very first time.
Even though fine cheese has long been part of the country’s cultural identity, the Swiss cheese trade balance has actually been shrinking for decades, according to The New York Times. The unwinding of Switzerland’s cheese industry was propelled in 2007, when the market was liberalized, allowing the country to trade within the European Union without tariffs or quotas for imports or exports. Now, Switzerland exports about 40 percent of the cheese it produces, and customs data shows that the country has imported more cheese by weight than is being sold abroad.
What could be contributing to the downfall of such a strong tradition? It appears that the Swiss have developed a stronger taste for foreign cheeses. According to Switzerland’s national dairy association Swissmilk, 77 percent of cheese consumption in Switzerland consisted of local varieties in 2007. This number has since fallen to 64 percent, as the influx of cheese from surrounding nations due to the more relaxed import laws has driven more locals to reach for cheaper, softer cheeses, largely from France.
The luxe reputation that made Swiss cheese so prized might just be its downfall in this more globalized cheese economy. Switzerland tends to focus on high-quality offerings from small farmers, and while this leads to some luxurious cheese offerings, many consumers are looking for options that offer a better value. The strength of Switzerland’s currency, the franc, compared to the Euro has also recently made imports markedly cheaper than local products.
In addition to locals opting for cheaper, imported cheese, the nation’s major export markets like Germany have dealt with a massive increase in inflation this past year, which is causing less people to splurge on fine cheese. Since the number of dairy farmers in Switzerland is decreasing — the number of farmers has halved in the past 25 years — this trend might continue to worsen as the country’s offerings become more specialized and expensive.
In an interview with The New York Times, Swissmilk director Daniel Koller maintains that it is important for Swiss producers to continue making cheese for consumers within their country, and urges locals to buy local products that support Switzerland’s focus on high quality and sustainability.