Calaveras Enterprise

Raw milk makes flavors we love

Raw milk makes flavors we love

Raw milk makes flavors we love

W e celebrated Raw Milk Appreciation Day on April 17. While I didn’t expect a parade, I think it’s a good time to learn more about raw milk cheeses.

I am a strong proponent of raw-milk (unpasteurized) cheese. Consumers should have the right to decide for themselves and have the resources to make educated decisions. The Oldways Cheese Coalition, formerly known as the Cheese of Choice Coalition, is a traditional foods preservation organization that sponsors the annual awareness program as Raw Milk Appreciation Day. Its goal with cheese is to support old world curds, cultures and traditions. Visit for more.

The coalition’s view is, “Raw-milk cheese is not only traditional, it is as old as cheese itself. In fact, until Louis Pasteur came along in the mid-19th century, all milk was raw by default.”

No one knew about the bacteria present in milk or other foods way back then. Cheeses were made with raw milk and handcrafted in sanitary conditions through the ages. Why? Making healthy food was a basic goal of food production. No shortcuts or additives or preservatives were in people’s minds, just making cheese the old-fashioned, time-honored way that it was accomplished by ancestors. It worked then and it works now in our artisan cheese communities.



An Oldways survey of 2,150 cheese lovers determined:

• 90 percent of all cheese lovers say they should be able to choose raw-milk cheeses.

• 50 percent of cheese lovers buy raw-milk cheeses regularly.

• 86 percent of respondents want to support artisan cheesemakers who produce raw-milk cheeses.

• 73 percent of consumers who prefer raw-milk cheeses appreciate their probiotic properties.

Only because we have become so fearful of food is this even an issue today. The Food and Drug Administration diligently oversees safe and sanitary food production in the United States. It also controls imported cheeses. Making cheese has proven to be a very safe industry, yet huge volumes of other foods are shipped here from around the world and we don’t always know where our food comes from, the country or continent. So we worry about safety.

Killing off all bacteria seems the wise thing to do, yet cheese is created from microbes and colonies of the right kinds of bacteria are protective and ward off other potentially harmful bacteria. Lactobacillus (bacteria in milk) is one of those positive bacteria, and when it is fermented into lactic acid bacteria, it becomes a protection to enable the preservation of milk by making it into cheese curds. Cheese is, after all, preserved milk.

Killing off all bacteria in raw milk (ultra-pasteurization) leaves the remaining milk vulnerable to other ambient bacteria that may cause souring and spoilage over time. Leaving the right bacteria in cheeses encourages more natural curd formation.

Oldways states, “While it may seem counter-intuitive, microbial organisms are not only responsible for food spoilage, they are also fundamental to food preservation. Cheese, like any other fermented food (wine, beer, bread, sauerkraut, to name a few), is a complex interaction between raw ingredients and the ambient microbes in our environment. In reality, very few bacteria are ‘bad’ (i.e. pathogenic) and the good bacteria in cheese ensures that the product remains safe to consume by outcompeting undesirable pathogens.”

Fermentation? Good bacteria present in raw milk cultures turn the lactose (milk sugars) into lactase (acid), which then protects the cheese from spoilage and allows cheese curds to form. This happens organically with raw milks. Cheesemakers say raw milk almost makes itself into cheese, due to its high content of good bacteria.

With pasteurized milk, the cheesemaker has to add cultures to bring back some protective bacteria, which never achieves the original content. Bacteria bring flavors and textures and uniqueness of flavors. Oldways experts say that “ambient bacteria in raw milk, and other microflora present in dairy before heat-treatment, lend a great deal of flavor to the final product that is all but eliminated when the milk is pasteurized or ‘cooked.’”

Raw-milk cheeses need less aging to become rich and subtle to pair with white wines; when aged, they become bolder, more complex and full-bodied to pair with red wines.

Probiotics in raw milk aid our digestive systems to form a healthy gut. The site says, “There is an expanding body of scientific literature that suggests that food rich in probiotics (i.e. cheese, yogurt and other fermented foods) are really quite healthy, providing essential vitamins and minerals and potentially helpful with respect to allergies, asthma and a host of other health concerns.”

Cheeses made from raw milk are legal and can be sold in the United States, as long as they’re aged over 60 days. That gives us access to some amazing local cheeses like Fiscalini Farmstead Cheddar, Stuyt Dairy Gouda from Escalon, Grafton Village Cheddars, Estero Gold, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Buttermilk Blue Affine and Bayley Hazen Blue, all generally available here in the foothills. The great traditional European cheeses continue to satisfy us: French and Swiss Gruyeres, Spanish Manchego, Parmigiano Reggiano and classic Roquefort. They are worth seeking out for their individuality.

Let’s not lose these cheeses; they are too precious to our choice of cheese selection and tastes. Eat them and “cast your vote” for your cheese of choice.

Judy Creighton presents Second Sunday Cheese Classes from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Lavender Ridge Vineyard Rhone Room in Murphys. The cost is $20; reserve at 728-2441.

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