The Fussel’s fuss and Canada’s sacred cows

Martha Muzychka socialnotes@gmail.com
Published on September 24, 2013

When one of my friends, a Newfoundlander now living in the U.S., found out there was a shortage of Fussell’s tinned cream in St. John’s, she posted this comment to her friends: “Something akin to a national disaster.”

While there is, for sure, a tongue in that cheek, let’s not lose track of what for many of us is a very important consideration.

Namely, I’ll be rotted if I can’t get my hands on a few cans of Fussell’s in the next couple of months. The British cream is a Sunday staple for a lot of families; for me, it’s all about the baking and it is a key part of our Christmas celebrations.

Here’s the deal. Canada, being Canada, has a quota system in place to limit how much of certain dairy products can be imported into the country, purportedly to protect the domestic industry.

In particular, Fussell’s is considered a specialty cream, and what the typical consumer is up against is known as a TRQ. (Never, ever underestimate a bureaucrat’s opportunity to create an acronym.) TRQ stands for tariff rate quota, and as that implies, there’s only so much tinned cream to go around.

I looked this up on the federal government’s website, and if I’m reading it correctly, the amount of “specialty creams” that can be brought into the country is 394,000 kilograms, which sounds like quite a lot, until you figure out how much cream that means per person, per year.

Sure, some people never use this stuff, but for those of us who do, we know how precious it is.

Last year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we had what I will call the Great Fussell’s Panic. You see, I need several cans of Fussell’s each year to make cherry cakes. I make three for my family, but I’ve been in the habit of making a bunch to give away to friends as gifts.

The problem was not fully understood when it presented itself.

When a routine shopping trip found nothing in the supermarket, I didn’t think much of it. The weeks leading up to Christmas are pretty hectic for a lot of bakers.

My husband volunteered to check another store. Then another, and another, and so on. We eventually got an explanation: there was only so much tinned cream to go around.

I’ll never forget the rush of excitement when we got a tip that a stash of the stuff had been spotted at the Dominion store over on Blackmarsh Road. We were able to find enough to get us through Christmas, and I learned something about human nature. When something is scarce, and everyone knows that fact, you feel inclined to gather and protect that commodity when you see it.

Don’t worry: I did not hoard my Fussell’s. (The same restrictions apply to a similar imported product made by Carnation.)

My pantry does, though, feel a bit barren at the moment without it. Friends have offered suggestions for replacements, such as a bottled type of clotted cream, and I guess I may have to adapt.

But the broader question remains. If we can have free trade on a great many of the products that leave our country (and many which come into it), why on Earth are dairy products considered so special? Are these the sacred cows I’ve been hearing about?

Having lived in Ottawa, and having paid attention to federal policy for many years, I know perfectly well that Canada’s dairy industry is a powerful lobby, particularly from its power base in Quebec. I don’t doubt for a second that the restrictions on these products — which include specialty cheeses — are connected to this political reality.

I guess I wouldn’t mind so much if there were a domestic product that had the same thick, delicious dollop that I get from a can of Fussell’s. (A little does, indeed, go a long way.)

The fact is there is nothing like it on the domestic market, which is why there’s a fuss here at home. In the meantime, my Christmas baking is still several weeks away, and I’ll cross that creamy bridge when I come to it.

Martha Muzychka is a writer and

consultant. She welcomes all Fussell’s tips and other comments at socialnotes@gmail.com.