The Cheese Insider

Prior to the late 1860s, the only cheese being made in the world was done with raw milk. Louis Pasteur, a French scientist, discovered that subjecting grape juice to a mild heat treatment could eliminate spoilage organisms and ensure the production of wine of consistent high quality. This same concept was put to test with dairy products as public health intervention, and has had a huge impact upon dairy products. The use of pasteurization to ensure the safety of milk and dairy products is perhaps the most significant public health achievement of the last century. Prior to the advent of pasteurization, serious illness, including, typhoid fever, scarlet fever, diphtheria, tuberculosis, were associated with raw milk consumption.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate milk and dairy products produced in and imported into the United States. European cheesemakers are governed by the European Union directives, which permit the manufacture of raw-milk cheeses, but the U.S. are very different. Current regulations governing use of raw, heat-treated, and pasteurized milk for cheesemaking were created in 1949. Cheesemakers have two options to ensure the safety of their cheese: they can pasteurize milk for cheesemaking or they can hold their cheese at a temperature of not less than 35 degrees F, for a minimum of 60 days. The 60-day rule eliminates many of the softer, high moisture cheeses, like Brie, Camembert, and feta from using raw milk.

Pasteurization requires milk to be heated to 161 degrees for 15 seconds, while “heat-treated” milk requires milk to be heated for 30 minutes at 145 degrees. Cheesemakers who produce cheeses made from pasteurized milk require capital investment in the equipment, and the pasteurizer operators must be licensed. The choice of whether to make cheeses using pasteurized versus raw milk and aging for 60 days or longer involves a number of considerations, which include food safety implications, the desired quality and sensory characteristics of the cheese, yield losses, the costs associated with pasteurization equipment, and concerns about consistency of milk quality.

Personally, I love most raw milk cheeses. They tend to be more flavorful and in most cases the finish of raw milk cheeses tend to be far superior. Some of the raw milk cheeses we carry in our shop include Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese in Dodgeville, Marieke’s Goudas from Holland’s Family Cheese in Thorp, Big Ed’s and Green Fields from Saxon Creamery in Cleveland, Bandaged Cheddar and Alpine Renegade from Bleu Mont Dairy in Blue Mounds, and Buttermilk Blue from Emmi Roth in Monroe.

We represent a number of cheesemakers and they all have their reasons for the type of milk they use in producing their very special cheeses. For some it is the style of cheese they produce. For others it is the length of time and the flavor profiles they are seeking. One thing is for sure, there are some great cheeses being produced in Wisconsin and the milk type is best chosen by the artisans that create them.

Source: American Farmstead Cheese, Paul Kindstedt, 2005