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Vendors Slicing Their Cheese Again in Union Square

UNION SQUARE — Greenmarket cheesemongers were celebrating on Friday as a regulation that barred them from slicing cheese and their stands came to an end. 

Vendors said the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets began fining vendors during the winter for slicing and packaging their cheese at the markets. This came after the agency started to enforce a 40-year-old regulation stipulating sellers need to follow rules, including having hot running water and a three-basin sink, to prepare their food.

"They fined a lot of people this year. That’s ridiculous," said Luisa Somers, 32, of Dancing Ewe Farm, who sells her homemade cheese at the Union Square farmers’ market. "One week we tried to vacuum pack, but everybody complained."

Somers said prepackaging cheese can change the taste and forces customers to buy a predetermined amount.

Somers also said not being allowed to cut cheese at the markets kept them from handing out fresh samples.

"The people that are the most happy are the customers," said Luisa’s husband, Jody Somers, 40. "It’s the freshest piece of cheese."

Jody Somers said some of his cheese has been aged for up to 60 days and the health risk of cutting it was non-existent.

"Nobody has gotten sick," he said. "No one has died."

Vendors were allowed to circumvent the regulations by using a plastic knife, but Luisa said it was difficult to cut some of the harder cheese without a proper knife.

The New York Department of Agriculture and Markets decided to exempt cheese vendors after listening to their complaints.

"We heard the concerns of farmers. That it’s very hard to maintain a food processing license," said Jessica Ziehm, an Agriculture Department spokeswoman.

Ziehm said while it is easier now for cheese sellers to prepare their food on-site, they still need to follow food safety regulations including using clean utensils, keeping cheese protected from pests and having a hand-washing facility.

Despite the joy of the vendors, the people who seemed the most happy about the cheese developments were those walking through Union Square.

One woman got a mischievous look on her face after buying some goat cheese from vendor Patches of Star.

"I think people should be able to cut the cheese wherever they like," she said.