Raw Milk: A Key Ingredient in Some of the World’s Finest Cheeses.

Story at-a-glance

  • Raw milk is used to make some of the world’s finest cheeses, from the Italian Parmigiano Reggiano to the famous French-made Camembert
  • Raw cheese has a richer and deeper flavor than cheese made from pasteurized milk because heat destroys the enzymes and good bacteria that add flavor to the cheese
  • Raw cheese has flavors derived from the pastureland that nourished the animals producing the milk, much like wine is said to draw its unique flavors from individual vineyards
  • The US government has been threatening to ban raw-milk products, including raw cheese, despite a lack of evidence showing them to be dangerous.
  • Based on their vehement warnings to the public, as well as their raids on small farms, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) want you to believe that raw milk is unsafe.

    And if you listen to them, you would come away believing that raw milk is a filthy, disease-causing beverage that is virtually guaranteed to make you and your family sick…

    Yet, this very same ingredient – raw milk – is used to make some of the world’s finest cheeses, from the Italian Parmigiano Reggiano to the famous French-made Camembert.

    The traditional cheese-making process has been crafted over centuries in many cases, and is truly an art form, with each cheese carefully aged and ripened to develop a complex taste and texture that mass-produced cheeses cannot replicate – thanks, in large part, to their raw milk content.

    Why Raw Milk Makes Cheese Better

    Raw cheese has a richer and deeper flavor than cheese made from pasteurized milk because heat destroys the enzymes and good bacteria that add flavor to the cheese.

    In fact, raw cheese has flavors derived from the pastureland that nourished the animals producing the milk, much like wine is said to draw its unique flavors from individual vineyards. As The Edmonton Journal recently reported:1

    “ … bacteria present in the raw milk creates a taste profile for cheese that cannot be replicated post-pasteurization.

    ‘It’s impossible to recreate what nature creates first,’ says [Bobby] Gregoire, part of a Slow Food campaign to educate the public about raw milk and its products. ‘If you pasteurize the cheese, you lose the link to the land. It’s impossible to have a terroir product if you pasteurize it.’”

    Unfortunately, 90 percent of standard grocery store cheeses are made from the milk of CAFO cows, which are grain-fed cows. Raw-milk cheese is far more likely too come from grass-fed animals raised on pasture, rather than grain-fed or soy-fed animals confined to feedlot stalls. Raw grass-fed dairy products not only taste better, they are also nutritionally superior:

    • Cheese made from the milk of grass-fed cows has the ideal omega-6 to omega-3 fat ratio of 2:1. By contrast, the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of grain-fed milk is heavily weighted on the side of omega-6 fats (25:1), which are already excessive in the standard American diet. Grass-fed dairy combats inflammation in your body, whereas grain-fed dairy contributes to it.
    • Grass-fed cheese contains about five times the beneficial conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) of grain-fed cheese.
    • Because raw cheese is not pasteurized, natural enzymes in the milk are preserved, increasing its nutritional punch.
    • Grass-fed cheese is considerably higher in calcium, magnesium, beta-carotene, and vitamins A, C, D and E.
    • Organic grass-fed cheese is free of antibiotics and growth hormones.

    Are the FDA and Canada Going to Ban Raw-Milk Cheese?

    For years, federal regulators have been threatening to ban raw milk products, including raw cheese, due to what they claim are increased safety risks. In Canada, where unpasteurized milk is legal to sell, an E. coli outbreak linked to one raw milk cheese has experts calling for tighter regulations.

    But the E. coli source has yet to be firmly identified, meaning it could be from fresh herbs used in the cheeses, tubing at the factory where the cheese is made or any number of sources, i.e. not necessarily the raw milk.

    The Edmonton Journal continued:2

    “In light of such a tragedy, it’s easy to panic, and to view cheese made from unpasteurized milk — which is legal to sell in Canada — with a jaundiced eye. Ban it! Bring on irradiation! This sort of fear-based attitude is a mistake.

    Food-borne pathogens exist. They are a fact of life — always have been, always will be. But to blame, or move to eliminate, an entire food culture, in existence for thousands of years, stimulating both the palate and the economy, would be an overreaction.”

    Even a 2012 report from the FDA and Health Canada,3 which claimed that there is a 50- to 160-fold increase in the risk of listeriosis from eating soft-ripened raw-milk cheese, compared with cheese made from pasteurized milk, appears to be greatly overblown. As one journalist reported:4

    The risk certainly sounds serious… until you read closely the full 189-page report and learn that the FDA-Health Canada conclusion about ‘a 50- to 160-fold increase in the risk’ is based entirely on estimates and mathematical predictions, rather than real-life data on illnesses from the soft raw milk cheeses.

    Even more remarkable, the actual real-life data presented in the report of illnesses worldwide from listeriosis in soft cheese over a 23-year period between 1986 and 2008 show not a single documented illness in the U.S. from listeriosis due to tainted brie or camembert.”

    Likewise, according to Grist,5 between 1973 and 1999 there’s not a single report of illness from either raw or pasteurized cheeses. However, since the year 2000, illnesses have begun to appear from raw and pasteurized cheese alike. Most outbreaks have been found to result from post-production contamination and laxity in quality control, not lack of pasteurization.

    The truth is that raw cheese is not inherently dangerous, provided high standards are followed in the cheese-making process. Hard cheeses like cheddar dry out as they age, making them relatively inhospitable to invading bacteria. The FDA’s attack on raw cheese is not based on facts, but simply is an extension of their long-standing hostility toward raw milk in general.

    Did You Know High-Quality Cheese Is Good for You?

    Cheese is much maligned in America due to the saturated fat/cholesterol myth. Does eating high-quality cheese lead to obesity and heart disease? This is actually a myth that stems from an outdated and seriously flawed hypothesis, perpetuated by decades of wildly successful marketing.

    Numerous recent studies have confirmed saturated fat is NOT associated with obesity or heart disease and is actually associated with improved heart health. Most Americans today are consuming inadequate saturated fat. In fact, the Greeks, French and Germans eat much more cheese than Americans but enjoy lower rates of hypertension and obesity.6

    Of course, there is a difference between natural cheese and processed “cheese foods.” Natural cheese is a simplefermented dairy product, made with nothing more than a few basic ingredients — milk, starter culture, salt and an enzyme called rennet. Processed cheese or “cheese food” is a different story. These products are typically pasteurized and otherwise adulterated with a variety of additives that detract from their nutritional value. When prepared traditionally, as most raw-milk cheeses are, cheese offers a wealth of good nutrition, including:

    • High-quality protein and amino acids
    • High-quality saturated fats and omega-3 fats
    • Vitamins and minerals, including calcium, zinc, phosphorus, vitamins A, D, B2 (riboflavin) and B12
    • Vitamin K2
    • CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a powerful cancer-fighter and metabolism booster

    Which Cheeses Are Best?

    This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? And one that’s virtually impossible to answer, as everyone’s palate is unique when it comes to cheese. From a health standpoint, your best option is cheese made from the raw milk of pasture-raised cows, sheep and goats, as opposed to feedlot livestock fed grain and soy. My top picks are Gouda, Brie, and Edam cheese, as these are good sources of vitamin K2, but you also can’t go wrong with high-quality cheddar, Swiss, Colby, Gruyere, and goat cheese.

    Cheese is unique in that it offers a synergistic blend of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids, including the magic trio of vitamin D3, vitamin K2 and calcium. This nutrient triad is vitally important for reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, so don’t be afraid to include high-quality cheese in your regular diet. Also, don’t be afraid of raw cheese (as long as it comes from a reputable cheesemaker), which beats ordinary cheese in both taste and nutrition.

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