Could Have Fooled Me! Russia's 'Fake' Foods
Published 29 January 2015
In August 2014, Russia announced it was banning foreign food imports to punish the West for imposing economic sanctions over Ukraine. Since then, the country has scrambled to fill emptying market shelves with locally made alternatives to Finnish yogurt, Dutch cheese, and Italian mozzarella, whose packaging appears intended to fool Russian shoppers. Sergei Chernov, a journalist and photographer based in St. Petersburg, takes a look at some recent mealtime options, many of which appear to involve processed cheese.
The label for Forsa butter bears the colors of the Swedish flag, Swedish words, and a Swedish-sounding company name. It is, however, made in Volot in Novogorod Oblast.
Omichka, a "paste-like processed dessert with cheese," may tempt nostalgists with fond memories of a popular processed cheese made during the Soviet era under the same name. Made in Omsk, hence the name.
Many Soviet-style processed cheeses live on, albeit with new names -- Russian, Friendship of Continents, and Dutch -- and a slightly edited description: "processed food with cheese."
Some products make a diligent effort to look like imports. This fior di latte mozzarella is actually made in the town of Malaya Vishera, in Novgorod Oblast. Some Russians who have sampled it say the taste is closer to tvorog (farmer's cheese) than real Italian mozzarella.
"Spanish" sausages. Made in Rostov-on-Don.
Valde, a processed cheese whose name and label bear more than a passing resemblance to popular Finnish dairy brand Valio. Valio continues to operate production facilities in St. Petersburg and outside Moscow, but with many of its raw ingredients now banned, its products are in short supply. In the meantime, there's Valde.
Rokler, yet another processed cheese -- only this time with ham! -- attempts Scandinavian appeal with the addition of a small crown. Made in Omsk.
A Russian term that alternately means wet nurse and breadwinner, Kormilitsa canned peas bear a decidedly Soviet style, despite the new name. Made in Krasnodar.
Hansdorf butter, made in St. Petersburg, adopts a German-style appearance, its label showing a bluebird, a smiling milkmaid, and a grass-fed cow.
The Petersburg-based manufacturer Gold of Europe has produced its own variety of Maasdam, a Swiss-style Dutch cheese. A medallion on the packaging advertises it as a member of the "collection of famous European cheeses." One taster pronounced the Russian brand "not first-rate, but edible."
Some of the new products appear to be packaged with the patriotic shopper in mind. One example: Krymskoye Maslo (Crimean Butter), whose label comes adorned with the black-and-orange St. George's ribbon worn by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. A similarly beribboned Crimean Vodka is also newly available. Both are produced in the Crimean city of Sevastopol.
Another patriotically named product, Kremlyovskoye, despite promising the "tender taste of cream," is not butter but a member of the "spread category." The label features the image of the kremlin not in Moscow but in Nizhy Novgorod, where Kremlyovskoye is made.