Showing posts with label raw milk cheese. Show all posts
Showing posts with label raw milk cheese. Show all posts

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Raw Milk Cheese Isn't Scary

Over the past few weeks months the cheese world has been going through some shit. There have been cheese recalls due to e.coli and listeria. The government has been "protecting the public" by appearing to go after small cheesemakers, shutting them down and condemning their cheeses. The "E.Coli lawyer" is suing Costco and Bravo Farms because a family got sick from tainted cheese. There are a lot of rumors, questions and fears about raw milk cheese and if it is safe.

*I am NOT medical doctor. I'm simply giving you some information. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist if you have any concerns about anything you eat.*

I can tell you that I often purchase raw milk cheese. When I visit a farm I drink the raw milk that is offered to me, eat cheeses that aren't at the 60 day mark, and pretty much will try anything from a cheesemaker that I visit. I've gotten a few questions from readers about raw milk cheese, so here are some answers for you courtesy of cheese authority Janet Fletcher as shared by the ACS.

The Myths about Raw-Milk Cheese

-by Janet Fletcher

Parmigiano-Reggiano, Roquefort and English Cheddar are among the most sought-after selections in any cheese case. But are they also among the most dangerous?

Along with dozens of other raw-milk treasures—Fontina Val d’Aosta, Swiss Gruyère, Comté, Vermont Shepherd— these classic cheeses bear the weight of the myths and misperceptions surrounding raw milk. Some advocates suggest that raw-milk cheese is as safe as corn flakes—people aren’t dying like flies in Europe, are they? Yet others preach caution. With some physicians advising pregnant women to avoid all raw-milk cheese, consumers are

wondering where the danger lies. Does your cheese department staff know the raw-milk facts? Let’s examine some of the commonly held beliefs about pasteurization and its impact on milk, cheese and health. Anyone in the business of selling cheese needs to be able

to tell the myths from the truth.

Myth 1: Pasteurized milk is sterile.

Not true. If pasteurized milk were sterile, an unopened carton wouldn’t spoil. Pasteurization kills a lot of bacteria, including all the pathogens (disease-causing organisms) like Listeria and Salmonella and some but not all of the bacteria that make milk spoil. So pasteurization does make milk safer while it also increases the shelf-life. There is more than one way to pasteurize. You can heat the milk to a high temperature (161 degrees F.) for a short time (15 seconds). Or you can heat the milk to a lower temperature (145 degrees F.) for a longer time (30 minutes).

Most cheesemakers would say that the high-temperature, short-time (HTST) method does less damage to milk quality. A third heat-treatment procedure, known as thermization or thermalization, stops short of pasteurization. This method preserves the milk enzymes while significantly reducing bacterial counts. The FDA considers thermalized milk as raw

milk, so cheeses made with thermalized milk must still be aged at least 60 days.

Myth 2: Raw milk has more nutrient value than pasteurized milk.

Not significantly. According to Moshe Rosenberg, food science professor at the University of California at Davis, vitamin loss from pasteurization is either too small to measure or less than 10 percent. The exception is vitamin C, which drops by about 20 percent. Many people believe in the health benefits of raw milk’s enzymes. Pasteurization does denature enzymes, but

according to Rosenberg, milk enzymes can’t withstand the low pH in the human stomach anyway. They don’t do anything for our digestion or health.

Myth 3: Pregnant women should avoid all raw-milk cheese.

The concern here is Listeria, which can harm a fetus. So do physicians have science behind them when they tell pregnant patients to forego all raw-milk cheese? Studies suggest not. Although high-moisture, unripened cheeses like cottage cheese and queso fresco and soft

cheeses such as Brie and Camembert can support Listeria growth, aged raw-milk cheeses like Parmigiano- Reggiano, English Cheddar, Gruyère and Emmenthal cannot. They’re too dry, too low in pH, too high in salt. When Listeria turns up in cheese, it’s almost always in moist, soft cheese made with milk that was improperly pasteurized or contaminated after pasteurization. There have been several large outbreaks of listeriosis associated with Hispanic-style cheeses prepared under non-commercial conditions. The FDA’s own risk assessent puts hard cheese last in Listeria potential among 23 common foods, including produce ( From the standpoint of Listeria risk, it would make more sense to warn pregnant women away from fruits, vegetables or deli meats than to caution them about aged raw-milk cheese. Aged raw-milk cheeses are excellent sources of calcium and protein, needed by pregnant women. The law requires raw-milk cheese—domestic or imported—to be aged at least 60 days at 35 degrees F. or above. By that point, most cheeses are no longer soft or moist, and are highly unlikely to harbor Listeria. (Some underage raw-

milk cheeses do enter this country illegally, and pregnant women should avoid them.)

Myth 4: Raw-milk cheese tastes better than cheese made from pasteurized milk.

That widespread belief comes under fire once you taste a Colston-Bassett Stilton, Spain’s luscious Nevat, a mountain Gorgonzola or the washed-rind Red Hawk from California’s Cowgirl Creamery—all from pasteurized milk. In the hands of a good cheesemaker, pasteurized milk does just fine. Pasteurization does destroy some of the microflora in milk—the “bad bacteria as well as the desirable flavor- and aroma-producing enzymes. Without these enzymes, cheese made from pasteurized milk has less potential for flavor development. In one study, researchers at France’s Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique made the same cheeses from both raw and pasteurized milk. The raw-milk versions developed flavor sooner and the flavor was richer and more complex. The researchers’ conclusion: Pasteurization alters the biochemistry and microbiology of ripening and thus the texture and flavor of the cheese. All things being equal, raw milk will produce a more complex cheese than pasteurized milk. Nevertheless, most

cheesemakers would agree that fresh, high-quality pasteurized milk is better than low-quality raw milk any day.

Myth 5: Raw-milk cheeses aged more than 60 days are risk-free.

Nothing we eat is risk-free. Cheese can be contaminated at any stage from farm to table: in the milking barn, in the dairy, in the aging room or at the retail counter. The 60-day rule, which dates from 1949, derives from the belief that pathogens can’t survive the low-pH, low-moisture environment of an aged cheese. In fact, scientists have since shown that some pathogens—strains of Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli—can survive in cheese beyond 60 days. In most of these so-called challenge studies, they have inoculated pasteurized milk (not raw

milk) with large quantities of pathogens—far more than you would find in quality milk—then made and aged the cheese. Lo and behold, in some cases, pathogens survived beyond 60 days. Catherine Donnelly, a food microbiologist at the University of Vermont and an international expert on Listeria, believes that pathogens may behave differently in pasteurized-milk cheese than in raw-milk cheese. Says Donnelly, “Having lots of beneficial bacteria present is a good way to combat pathogenic bacteria. Once you eliminate all those good organisms, there’s nothing for the pathogenic bacteria to compete with. What do these challenge studies prove about aged raw-milk cheese, which has a remarkable safety record? In more than 50 years of scientific literature, there are virtually no reports of illness outbreaks from aged raw-milk cheese that can be blamed on the raw milk.

Myth 6: Mandatory pasteurization would make cheese safe for all.

It’s true that pasteurization puts all known milk pathogens out of commission, but it doesn’t prevent milk or cheese from being infected downstream. In fact, it may make it easier, as Donnelly suggests. Not only can pathogens get a foothold when there aren’t any “good bacteria to outcompete them, but dairies may relax their sanitary procedures when they know they’re working with pasteurized milk. One recent study of European washed-rind cheeses found

almost twice as much Listeria in the pasteurized samples than in the raw-milk samples.

“The greatest threat posed to the safety of cheese is due to post-process environmental contamination, writes Donnelly in a scientific paper. In that light, mandatory HACCP plans in dairies would probably do more to safeguard public health than mandatory pasteurization.


Janet Fletcher is the author of The Cheese Course and a staff food writer for The San Francisco Chronicle. This article from the November 2004 issue of Specialty Foods Magazine is made available with their express permission.

Hopefully the article I've shared with you all will help you in making educated decisions at the cheese counter.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cheese Politics

I am new in the cheese world. I started this blog as a way for me to remember all the great cheese I was tasting and selling. I am not a politically cheesy person and have no desires to insult anyone by questioning their integrity or their politics. I thought long and hard about how I was going to do this post. Did I want to straddle a politically correct line? Should I write with a neutral voice just documenting what I heard and saw? At the end I thought "screw it". I'm just going to write how I feel, like always.

On Tuesday I went to Wisconsin to attend a discussion at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute. The topic was raw milk cheese. I had an opportunity to attend and meet some wonderful people. One of those friendly Wisonsinites was Jeanne from Cheese Underground. She has done a post about her experience there, so some of our information will be similar.

Let's pause and talk a bit about my feelings on raw milk cheese. I love raw milk cheese. I prefer it in fact. I will spend premium money on it, and do my best to promote it as a retailer. Why? It tastes better. It's all about the terroir. Raw milk cheese promotes the land. You can taste it. It tastes floral, loamy, grassy, herbaceous and chalky. You taste wild onions, clover, thistle and earth. Pasteurizing cheese kills these flavors. You still get good flavor, but not like the raw deal.

Raw milk cheese is an expression of the land. Of the animals and ultimately of the cheesemaker. The raw cheese reflects how they treat their animals. Does it taste like pasture or hay? Does it taste like those goats live in a rocky area, or in a green meadow? All cheese tells a story. Raw milk cheese brings along slides. There is room for pasteurized cheese both in my heart and on my plate, but whenever possible I like to go raw. Okay, back to Tuesday.

The group consisted of cheesemakers, mongers, marketers, scientists, writers, and me. One of the big issues discussed was "what is raw milk cheese?" The definition of pasteurized cheese is milk that has reached a temperature of 161 for at least 15 seconds. The Raw Cheesemakers' Association defines raw milk cheese as:

Cheese produced from milk that, prior to setting the curd, has not been heated above the temperature of the milk (104°F, 40°C) at the time of milking and that the cheese produced from that milk shall be aged for 60 days or longer at a temperature of not less than 35°F (2°C) in accordance with US FDA regulations.

The problem is that there is a lot of temperature difference between 104 and 161. Not a lot of regulation in that temperature zone either. We were given a handout where the Wisconsin DATCP polled the Wisconsin cheesemakers who claim to make raw milk cheese and asked them questions about what temperature they brought the milk to, how long it was aged, and if they're using a single or multiple milk source.

The first thing that shocked me about this was that only 20 producers in Wisconsin are making raw milk cheese. Only 20! Wisconsin is known for it's cheese. It's the dairyland for goodness sake and out of the hundreds of cheesemakers out there (perhaps even thousands) they only have 20 who make raw milk cheese? I was shocked! Why so few? One person said that it was the American stomach that has done this. Our need for "clean food" has made our immune systems and tummies weak and more susceptible to upset. Producers are making products that the public can eat.

Of the 20 cheesemakers listed (they were all listed anonymously) their cheesemaking practices ranged from never heating the milk higher than the temperature it is at milking, to bringing it to 158-160 for 16 seconds. If pasteurized milk is 161 for 15 seconds, is 160 for 16 seconds really raw? Some people said yes. The raw milk purists said abso-frickin-lutely NO!

This is where the big problem is. Technically speaking the cheesemaker who doesn't get his milk any higher than it is when collected and the cheesemaker who heats it to within one degree of pasteurization can both call their product raw milk cheese. Legally it's ok to do this. The question then surfaces, if it is legal, is it also ethical to do so? I don't know that it is.

Should there be a third classification of milk? Raw, lightly heated and pasteurized? There was concern that a label of "gently heated" or something similar might be misinterpreted by the consumer, and the cheese wouldn't sell. At the same time someone mentioned that when he was in Texas, having the raw milk cheese label on your cheese meant a 30% increase in sales. So now the question is the person who heats to 160 does he really believe that he makes raw milk cheese, or does he want to sell 30% more product?

A very loaded issue. Each answer is really just brings about another question. Nothing can or was expected to be solved during a one day discussion. It did get a dialogue started, and I know that I am going to be making inquires at work as to how cheesemakers make some of the specific raw milk cheeses that we carry.

One of the lighter parts of the day was the cheese. People brought in all sort of cheese. Cheddars, stinkies, Swiss, French and one homemade. Bill, the cheese buyer from Fromagination brought in a cheese that he makes in his own kitchen. In my recollection, it was the only goat representative on the table. It was delicious. The most ironic thing was that there was a boxed lunch available with a choice of sandwich. Here, in the land of dairy, cheese mecca, the holey land I love a pun the cheese on the sandwiches was orange, bland, and almost heartbreaking considering the company.

More on my the second part of my day trip to Wisconsin later.