A man attempting to enter Moscow from Poland was stopped by Russian customs control while carrying a half-ton of cheese, EU Business reported Monday. The man's car was stopped along the Russian border and found with 460 kilograms (approximately 1,000 pounds) of contraband cheese in the trunk and back seat.
Sanctions on imports from the U.S. and many EU nations have been in place since 2014 in retaliation for sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. and EU countries, due to the Russian invasion of Crimea. The sanctions disrupted the daily life of many citizens who were used to buying imported agricultural products from these nations.
Citizens were allowed to return home with a small amount of products for personal consumption. One Russian woman described the emotional experience of shopping in a European grocery for all of the products that had disappeared from her home country. "It’s not seeing the historic churches and museums that has made me so emotional — it’s seeing cheese at the supermarket. My little Gorgonzola. My little mozzarella. My little Gruyère, chèvre and Brie. I held them all in my arms — I didn’t even want to share them with the shopping cart," wrote Inna Denisova on her Facebook page, as reported by the New York Times.
— FRANCE 24 (@FRANCE24) July 20, 2015
Russian citizens have clamored for some of their favorite products, whether they be meat or specialty foods, but one of the most sorely missed food products has been imported cheese from France, Italy, and Greece. In response, an expansive black market has formed in response to the high demand for these imported products.
"A sort of speakeasy scene for French and Italian cheeses evolved which was akin to buying drugs from 1980s bodegas in Brooklyn," said one Moscow banker to Business Insider. The man described an elaborate system of signaling with market owners and then going to a back room to haggle over the price of a hunk of brie or a ball of mozzarella.
Russian industry has also responded to this cheese crisis by supplementing its own fabrication of different cheeses. In the first four months of 2014, Russia produced 180,000 tons of cheese -- a 30 percent increase from the previous year, Reuters reported. The Russian cheese has been accused of being bland and chewy.
Last month, President Vladimir Putin decided to extend the sanctions for another year.