Traditional recipes

The Truth About Listeria & Raw Milk Cheese

The Truth About Listeria & Raw Milk Cheese

Recently, a certain artisan cheese made headlines when it caused the deaths of two people and sickened several more due to contamination from listeria bacteria. However, this story is far more complicated than many of the news articles led readers to believe.

All small-batch cheesemakers want to make delicious, wholesome, and hygienic cheese. In this recent case, the cheesemaker was the sole owner of his small creamery; his name is even on the cheese labels. The artisan cheese community knew and loved his cheeses, and his intention was never to sell contaminated cheese. I’m sure he’s heartbroken and devastated by these events.

The scary thing about listeria: it’s a naturally occurring pathogen that can be found everywhere. It’s often found in drains and in moist environments, and as such, contamination can be caused at so many stages of the cheesemaking process. The bacteria can be picked up by the milk source itself, or while cheese is being hand-made, or during the aging process, or even in the post-production handling. It can flourish in cheese aging rooms, which are cool and damp; it can grow in cutting rooms on cheese processing equipment. Because of its ubiquity, cheesemakers are extremely diligent to keep it at bay. They’re constantly cleaning their facilities; there’s a huge cleaning sweep done at the start of each work day, then multiple times as the day progresses (in between each batch), and then once again at the end of the day.

But try as they might, cheesemakers aren’t able to eradicate this bacteria 100% of the time. And while listeriosis is uncommon, it’s extremely dangerous: one in five people who contract it will die. Because of this, it’s important to note that this contaminate affects different demographic differently. There are four groups of people who are at the highest risk for listeriosis: the very young, the elderly, pregnant woman and those with compromised immune systems. If you fall into one of these groups, do not eat high-listeria-risk foods such as raw sprouts, smoked seafood, soft cheeses, raw milk, or cold deli meats.

Now, to the point: yes, it’s quite true that the listeria risk from raw-milk cheese is significantly higher than with pasteurized-milk cheeses. It’s bound to be; pasteurization, by definition, is the process of heating a food item to kill pathogenic bacteria to make the food safer to eat. However, pasteurized cheese does carry some risk as well (note the February recall of Sargento cheeses due to listeria contamination).

That said: I’m saddened that, when people get sick from eating raw milk cheese, the “raw milk factor” is always highlighted in an utterly damning way. Raw milk cheeses have been eaten and enjoyed for hundreds of years. They have been proven to be safe for human consumption. I was recently in Europe for a few weeks on business, and made it a point to only eat raw milk cheeses that are not allowed into the US! European laws are far more lax than ours when it comes to raw milk cheese, yet the number of listeria cases in Europe is no higher than in the US (relative to population size).

At the end of the day, there are fantastic raw milk cheeses and there are fantastic pasteurized milk cheeses. If you choose to eat only pasteurized cheese, you’ll still have many options, especially with the massive wave of experimentation in the artisan cheese world. However, don’t be afraid of raw milk! If you are a healthy adult, it is perfectly reasonable – and delicious – to enjoy.

You can follow Raymond's cheese adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and his website. Additional reporting by Madeleine James.


Serious Cheese: On Raw-Milk Cheese

A few weeks back, JGordon left a comment on my post regarding France's raw-milk cheese war: "Could someone explain the difference between pasteurized cheeses and raw milk cheeses? Does pasteurization just destroy the flavor of cheese. Despite the near-illegality of raw milk and its rare consumption, several hundred people a year become ill from drinking raw milk, with the occasional death. Is cheese safer, or is the taste difference very significant?"

The raw-milk debate isn't going away anytime soon, so I thought it would be a good time to answer questions like those above and lay down my take on the matter.

Raw Milk vs. Raw-milk Cheese

Drinking raw milk is a public health issue. Milk can contain some seriously dangerous bacteria, including Listeria, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella. Before pasteurization became the norm, raw milk consumption was linked with even more serious diseases like typhoid, scarlet fever, and tuberculosis. But making cheese out of raw milk is really a separate issue. For various reasons, raw-milk cheese produced under strict standards of cleanliness is far safer than raw fluid milk.

And yes, raw-milk cheese does taste better--dramatically so. The complex mix of organisms naturally occurring in raw milk leads to a depth of flavor that pasteurized cheeses can't really approach. That's not to say that there aren't any pasteurized cheeses that are excellent, nor are all raw-milk cheeses revelations, but the trend is undeniable.

Factors that Influence Bacterial Growth

As explained by UVM Professor Catherine W. Donnelly in Chapter 9 of the book American Farmstead Cheese, there are a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence how hospitable a given cheese is to bacterial growth. High salt content, high acidity, and the presence of antimicrobial substances in the cheese are all factors that can influence the number of bacterial pathogens. How the milk and cheese are handled both on the farm and in the processing plant also affects bacterial growth.

It's all Relative

Given that, certain cheeses are less risky than others: semi-firm and firm, aged cheeses like the blues, Swiss, cheddars, and most Italian cheeses are considered safer than soft cheeses like ricotta, Brie, Camembert, etc. Moreover, cheeses made at small operations are less risky than those from bigger plants. (Incidence of Salmonella is much lower among farms with fewer than 100 animals than those with more than 100.)

Pasteurization Not a Magic Bullet

There is a theory that pasteurization can in some ways actually be more problematic than using raw milk. Pasteurization kills off any beneficial bacteria that are naturally present in raw milk. These beneficial bacteria could be an important defense against pathogenic growth, especially in a medium such as milk whose high water-content, relatively low acidity and high sugar levels make for a bacteria-friendly environment. Pasteurization also has the appearance of a magic bullet technique, which could lead producers to cut corners by using inferior milk or accepting shoddy procedures with regard to cleanliness. The science hasn't been done yet to bear all this out, but the theory is compelling.

Cleanliness is Next To Godliness

So ultimately Dr. Connelly recommends an approach to raw-milk cheese that involves stricter manufacture along with better bacterial testing throughout. I tend to agree because it would be a shame if the FDA decided to shut down raw-milk cheeses altogether. What about you? Where do you stand in this debate? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.


Serious Cheese: On Raw-Milk Cheese

A few weeks back, JGordon left a comment on my post regarding France's raw-milk cheese war: "Could someone explain the difference between pasteurized cheeses and raw milk cheeses? Does pasteurization just destroy the flavor of cheese. Despite the near-illegality of raw milk and its rare consumption, several hundred people a year become ill from drinking raw milk, with the occasional death. Is cheese safer, or is the taste difference very significant?"

The raw-milk debate isn't going away anytime soon, so I thought it would be a good time to answer questions like those above and lay down my take on the matter.

Raw Milk vs. Raw-milk Cheese

Drinking raw milk is a public health issue. Milk can contain some seriously dangerous bacteria, including Listeria, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella. Before pasteurization became the norm, raw milk consumption was linked with even more serious diseases like typhoid, scarlet fever, and tuberculosis. But making cheese out of raw milk is really a separate issue. For various reasons, raw-milk cheese produced under strict standards of cleanliness is far safer than raw fluid milk.

And yes, raw-milk cheese does taste better--dramatically so. The complex mix of organisms naturally occurring in raw milk leads to a depth of flavor that pasteurized cheeses can't really approach. That's not to say that there aren't any pasteurized cheeses that are excellent, nor are all raw-milk cheeses revelations, but the trend is undeniable.

Factors that Influence Bacterial Growth

As explained by UVM Professor Catherine W. Donnelly in Chapter 9 of the book American Farmstead Cheese, there are a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence how hospitable a given cheese is to bacterial growth. High salt content, high acidity, and the presence of antimicrobial substances in the cheese are all factors that can influence the number of bacterial pathogens. How the milk and cheese are handled both on the farm and in the processing plant also affects bacterial growth.

It's all Relative

Given that, certain cheeses are less risky than others: semi-firm and firm, aged cheeses like the blues, Swiss, cheddars, and most Italian cheeses are considered safer than soft cheeses like ricotta, Brie, Camembert, etc. Moreover, cheeses made at small operations are less risky than those from bigger plants. (Incidence of Salmonella is much lower among farms with fewer than 100 animals than those with more than 100.)

Pasteurization Not a Magic Bullet

There is a theory that pasteurization can in some ways actually be more problematic than using raw milk. Pasteurization kills off any beneficial bacteria that are naturally present in raw milk. These beneficial bacteria could be an important defense against pathogenic growth, especially in a medium such as milk whose high water-content, relatively low acidity and high sugar levels make for a bacteria-friendly environment. Pasteurization also has the appearance of a magic bullet technique, which could lead producers to cut corners by using inferior milk or accepting shoddy procedures with regard to cleanliness. The science hasn't been done yet to bear all this out, but the theory is compelling.

Cleanliness is Next To Godliness

So ultimately Dr. Connelly recommends an approach to raw-milk cheese that involves stricter manufacture along with better bacterial testing throughout. I tend to agree because it would be a shame if the FDA decided to shut down raw-milk cheeses altogether. What about you? Where do you stand in this debate? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.


Serious Cheese: On Raw-Milk Cheese

A few weeks back, JGordon left a comment on my post regarding France's raw-milk cheese war: "Could someone explain the difference between pasteurized cheeses and raw milk cheeses? Does pasteurization just destroy the flavor of cheese. Despite the near-illegality of raw milk and its rare consumption, several hundred people a year become ill from drinking raw milk, with the occasional death. Is cheese safer, or is the taste difference very significant?"

The raw-milk debate isn't going away anytime soon, so I thought it would be a good time to answer questions like those above and lay down my take on the matter.

Raw Milk vs. Raw-milk Cheese

Drinking raw milk is a public health issue. Milk can contain some seriously dangerous bacteria, including Listeria, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella. Before pasteurization became the norm, raw milk consumption was linked with even more serious diseases like typhoid, scarlet fever, and tuberculosis. But making cheese out of raw milk is really a separate issue. For various reasons, raw-milk cheese produced under strict standards of cleanliness is far safer than raw fluid milk.

And yes, raw-milk cheese does taste better--dramatically so. The complex mix of organisms naturally occurring in raw milk leads to a depth of flavor that pasteurized cheeses can't really approach. That's not to say that there aren't any pasteurized cheeses that are excellent, nor are all raw-milk cheeses revelations, but the trend is undeniable.

Factors that Influence Bacterial Growth

As explained by UVM Professor Catherine W. Donnelly in Chapter 9 of the book American Farmstead Cheese, there are a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence how hospitable a given cheese is to bacterial growth. High salt content, high acidity, and the presence of antimicrobial substances in the cheese are all factors that can influence the number of bacterial pathogens. How the milk and cheese are handled both on the farm and in the processing plant also affects bacterial growth.

It's all Relative

Given that, certain cheeses are less risky than others: semi-firm and firm, aged cheeses like the blues, Swiss, cheddars, and most Italian cheeses are considered safer than soft cheeses like ricotta, Brie, Camembert, etc. Moreover, cheeses made at small operations are less risky than those from bigger plants. (Incidence of Salmonella is much lower among farms with fewer than 100 animals than those with more than 100.)

Pasteurization Not a Magic Bullet

There is a theory that pasteurization can in some ways actually be more problematic than using raw milk. Pasteurization kills off any beneficial bacteria that are naturally present in raw milk. These beneficial bacteria could be an important defense against pathogenic growth, especially in a medium such as milk whose high water-content, relatively low acidity and high sugar levels make for a bacteria-friendly environment. Pasteurization also has the appearance of a magic bullet technique, which could lead producers to cut corners by using inferior milk or accepting shoddy procedures with regard to cleanliness. The science hasn't been done yet to bear all this out, but the theory is compelling.

Cleanliness is Next To Godliness

So ultimately Dr. Connelly recommends an approach to raw-milk cheese that involves stricter manufacture along with better bacterial testing throughout. I tend to agree because it would be a shame if the FDA decided to shut down raw-milk cheeses altogether. What about you? Where do you stand in this debate? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.


Serious Cheese: On Raw-Milk Cheese

A few weeks back, JGordon left a comment on my post regarding France's raw-milk cheese war: "Could someone explain the difference between pasteurized cheeses and raw milk cheeses? Does pasteurization just destroy the flavor of cheese. Despite the near-illegality of raw milk and its rare consumption, several hundred people a year become ill from drinking raw milk, with the occasional death. Is cheese safer, or is the taste difference very significant?"

The raw-milk debate isn't going away anytime soon, so I thought it would be a good time to answer questions like those above and lay down my take on the matter.

Raw Milk vs. Raw-milk Cheese

Drinking raw milk is a public health issue. Milk can contain some seriously dangerous bacteria, including Listeria, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella. Before pasteurization became the norm, raw milk consumption was linked with even more serious diseases like typhoid, scarlet fever, and tuberculosis. But making cheese out of raw milk is really a separate issue. For various reasons, raw-milk cheese produced under strict standards of cleanliness is far safer than raw fluid milk.

And yes, raw-milk cheese does taste better--dramatically so. The complex mix of organisms naturally occurring in raw milk leads to a depth of flavor that pasteurized cheeses can't really approach. That's not to say that there aren't any pasteurized cheeses that are excellent, nor are all raw-milk cheeses revelations, but the trend is undeniable.

Factors that Influence Bacterial Growth

As explained by UVM Professor Catherine W. Donnelly in Chapter 9 of the book American Farmstead Cheese, there are a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence how hospitable a given cheese is to bacterial growth. High salt content, high acidity, and the presence of antimicrobial substances in the cheese are all factors that can influence the number of bacterial pathogens. How the milk and cheese are handled both on the farm and in the processing plant also affects bacterial growth.

It's all Relative

Given that, certain cheeses are less risky than others: semi-firm and firm, aged cheeses like the blues, Swiss, cheddars, and most Italian cheeses are considered safer than soft cheeses like ricotta, Brie, Camembert, etc. Moreover, cheeses made at small operations are less risky than those from bigger plants. (Incidence of Salmonella is much lower among farms with fewer than 100 animals than those with more than 100.)

Pasteurization Not a Magic Bullet

There is a theory that pasteurization can in some ways actually be more problematic than using raw milk. Pasteurization kills off any beneficial bacteria that are naturally present in raw milk. These beneficial bacteria could be an important defense against pathogenic growth, especially in a medium such as milk whose high water-content, relatively low acidity and high sugar levels make for a bacteria-friendly environment. Pasteurization also has the appearance of a magic bullet technique, which could lead producers to cut corners by using inferior milk or accepting shoddy procedures with regard to cleanliness. The science hasn't been done yet to bear all this out, but the theory is compelling.

Cleanliness is Next To Godliness

So ultimately Dr. Connelly recommends an approach to raw-milk cheese that involves stricter manufacture along with better bacterial testing throughout. I tend to agree because it would be a shame if the FDA decided to shut down raw-milk cheeses altogether. What about you? Where do you stand in this debate? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.


Serious Cheese: On Raw-Milk Cheese

A few weeks back, JGordon left a comment on my post regarding France's raw-milk cheese war: "Could someone explain the difference between pasteurized cheeses and raw milk cheeses? Does pasteurization just destroy the flavor of cheese. Despite the near-illegality of raw milk and its rare consumption, several hundred people a year become ill from drinking raw milk, with the occasional death. Is cheese safer, or is the taste difference very significant?"

The raw-milk debate isn't going away anytime soon, so I thought it would be a good time to answer questions like those above and lay down my take on the matter.

Raw Milk vs. Raw-milk Cheese

Drinking raw milk is a public health issue. Milk can contain some seriously dangerous bacteria, including Listeria, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella. Before pasteurization became the norm, raw milk consumption was linked with even more serious diseases like typhoid, scarlet fever, and tuberculosis. But making cheese out of raw milk is really a separate issue. For various reasons, raw-milk cheese produced under strict standards of cleanliness is far safer than raw fluid milk.

And yes, raw-milk cheese does taste better--dramatically so. The complex mix of organisms naturally occurring in raw milk leads to a depth of flavor that pasteurized cheeses can't really approach. That's not to say that there aren't any pasteurized cheeses that are excellent, nor are all raw-milk cheeses revelations, but the trend is undeniable.

Factors that Influence Bacterial Growth

As explained by UVM Professor Catherine W. Donnelly in Chapter 9 of the book American Farmstead Cheese, there are a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence how hospitable a given cheese is to bacterial growth. High salt content, high acidity, and the presence of antimicrobial substances in the cheese are all factors that can influence the number of bacterial pathogens. How the milk and cheese are handled both on the farm and in the processing plant also affects bacterial growth.

It's all Relative

Given that, certain cheeses are less risky than others: semi-firm and firm, aged cheeses like the blues, Swiss, cheddars, and most Italian cheeses are considered safer than soft cheeses like ricotta, Brie, Camembert, etc. Moreover, cheeses made at small operations are less risky than those from bigger plants. (Incidence of Salmonella is much lower among farms with fewer than 100 animals than those with more than 100.)

Pasteurization Not a Magic Bullet

There is a theory that pasteurization can in some ways actually be more problematic than using raw milk. Pasteurization kills off any beneficial bacteria that are naturally present in raw milk. These beneficial bacteria could be an important defense against pathogenic growth, especially in a medium such as milk whose high water-content, relatively low acidity and high sugar levels make for a bacteria-friendly environment. Pasteurization also has the appearance of a magic bullet technique, which could lead producers to cut corners by using inferior milk or accepting shoddy procedures with regard to cleanliness. The science hasn't been done yet to bear all this out, but the theory is compelling.

Cleanliness is Next To Godliness

So ultimately Dr. Connelly recommends an approach to raw-milk cheese that involves stricter manufacture along with better bacterial testing throughout. I tend to agree because it would be a shame if the FDA decided to shut down raw-milk cheeses altogether. What about you? Where do you stand in this debate? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.


Serious Cheese: On Raw-Milk Cheese

A few weeks back, JGordon left a comment on my post regarding France's raw-milk cheese war: "Could someone explain the difference between pasteurized cheeses and raw milk cheeses? Does pasteurization just destroy the flavor of cheese. Despite the near-illegality of raw milk and its rare consumption, several hundred people a year become ill from drinking raw milk, with the occasional death. Is cheese safer, or is the taste difference very significant?"

The raw-milk debate isn't going away anytime soon, so I thought it would be a good time to answer questions like those above and lay down my take on the matter.

Raw Milk vs. Raw-milk Cheese

Drinking raw milk is a public health issue. Milk can contain some seriously dangerous bacteria, including Listeria, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella. Before pasteurization became the norm, raw milk consumption was linked with even more serious diseases like typhoid, scarlet fever, and tuberculosis. But making cheese out of raw milk is really a separate issue. For various reasons, raw-milk cheese produced under strict standards of cleanliness is far safer than raw fluid milk.

And yes, raw-milk cheese does taste better--dramatically so. The complex mix of organisms naturally occurring in raw milk leads to a depth of flavor that pasteurized cheeses can't really approach. That's not to say that there aren't any pasteurized cheeses that are excellent, nor are all raw-milk cheeses revelations, but the trend is undeniable.

Factors that Influence Bacterial Growth

As explained by UVM Professor Catherine W. Donnelly in Chapter 9 of the book American Farmstead Cheese, there are a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence how hospitable a given cheese is to bacterial growth. High salt content, high acidity, and the presence of antimicrobial substances in the cheese are all factors that can influence the number of bacterial pathogens. How the milk and cheese are handled both on the farm and in the processing plant also affects bacterial growth.

It's all Relative

Given that, certain cheeses are less risky than others: semi-firm and firm, aged cheeses like the blues, Swiss, cheddars, and most Italian cheeses are considered safer than soft cheeses like ricotta, Brie, Camembert, etc. Moreover, cheeses made at small operations are less risky than those from bigger plants. (Incidence of Salmonella is much lower among farms with fewer than 100 animals than those with more than 100.)

Pasteurization Not a Magic Bullet

There is a theory that pasteurization can in some ways actually be more problematic than using raw milk. Pasteurization kills off any beneficial bacteria that are naturally present in raw milk. These beneficial bacteria could be an important defense against pathogenic growth, especially in a medium such as milk whose high water-content, relatively low acidity and high sugar levels make for a bacteria-friendly environment. Pasteurization also has the appearance of a magic bullet technique, which could lead producers to cut corners by using inferior milk or accepting shoddy procedures with regard to cleanliness. The science hasn't been done yet to bear all this out, but the theory is compelling.

Cleanliness is Next To Godliness

So ultimately Dr. Connelly recommends an approach to raw-milk cheese that involves stricter manufacture along with better bacterial testing throughout. I tend to agree because it would be a shame if the FDA decided to shut down raw-milk cheeses altogether. What about you? Where do you stand in this debate? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.


Serious Cheese: On Raw-Milk Cheese

A few weeks back, JGordon left a comment on my post regarding France's raw-milk cheese war: "Could someone explain the difference between pasteurized cheeses and raw milk cheeses? Does pasteurization just destroy the flavor of cheese. Despite the near-illegality of raw milk and its rare consumption, several hundred people a year become ill from drinking raw milk, with the occasional death. Is cheese safer, or is the taste difference very significant?"

The raw-milk debate isn't going away anytime soon, so I thought it would be a good time to answer questions like those above and lay down my take on the matter.

Raw Milk vs. Raw-milk Cheese

Drinking raw milk is a public health issue. Milk can contain some seriously dangerous bacteria, including Listeria, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella. Before pasteurization became the norm, raw milk consumption was linked with even more serious diseases like typhoid, scarlet fever, and tuberculosis. But making cheese out of raw milk is really a separate issue. For various reasons, raw-milk cheese produced under strict standards of cleanliness is far safer than raw fluid milk.

And yes, raw-milk cheese does taste better--dramatically so. The complex mix of organisms naturally occurring in raw milk leads to a depth of flavor that pasteurized cheeses can't really approach. That's not to say that there aren't any pasteurized cheeses that are excellent, nor are all raw-milk cheeses revelations, but the trend is undeniable.

Factors that Influence Bacterial Growth

As explained by UVM Professor Catherine W. Donnelly in Chapter 9 of the book American Farmstead Cheese, there are a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence how hospitable a given cheese is to bacterial growth. High salt content, high acidity, and the presence of antimicrobial substances in the cheese are all factors that can influence the number of bacterial pathogens. How the milk and cheese are handled both on the farm and in the processing plant also affects bacterial growth.

It's all Relative

Given that, certain cheeses are less risky than others: semi-firm and firm, aged cheeses like the blues, Swiss, cheddars, and most Italian cheeses are considered safer than soft cheeses like ricotta, Brie, Camembert, etc. Moreover, cheeses made at small operations are less risky than those from bigger plants. (Incidence of Salmonella is much lower among farms with fewer than 100 animals than those with more than 100.)

Pasteurization Not a Magic Bullet

There is a theory that pasteurization can in some ways actually be more problematic than using raw milk. Pasteurization kills off any beneficial bacteria that are naturally present in raw milk. These beneficial bacteria could be an important defense against pathogenic growth, especially in a medium such as milk whose high water-content, relatively low acidity and high sugar levels make for a bacteria-friendly environment. Pasteurization also has the appearance of a magic bullet technique, which could lead producers to cut corners by using inferior milk or accepting shoddy procedures with regard to cleanliness. The science hasn't been done yet to bear all this out, but the theory is compelling.

Cleanliness is Next To Godliness

So ultimately Dr. Connelly recommends an approach to raw-milk cheese that involves stricter manufacture along with better bacterial testing throughout. I tend to agree because it would be a shame if the FDA decided to shut down raw-milk cheeses altogether. What about you? Where do you stand in this debate? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.


Serious Cheese: On Raw-Milk Cheese

A few weeks back, JGordon left a comment on my post regarding France's raw-milk cheese war: "Could someone explain the difference between pasteurized cheeses and raw milk cheeses? Does pasteurization just destroy the flavor of cheese. Despite the near-illegality of raw milk and its rare consumption, several hundred people a year become ill from drinking raw milk, with the occasional death. Is cheese safer, or is the taste difference very significant?"

The raw-milk debate isn't going away anytime soon, so I thought it would be a good time to answer questions like those above and lay down my take on the matter.

Raw Milk vs. Raw-milk Cheese

Drinking raw milk is a public health issue. Milk can contain some seriously dangerous bacteria, including Listeria, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella. Before pasteurization became the norm, raw milk consumption was linked with even more serious diseases like typhoid, scarlet fever, and tuberculosis. But making cheese out of raw milk is really a separate issue. For various reasons, raw-milk cheese produced under strict standards of cleanliness is far safer than raw fluid milk.

And yes, raw-milk cheese does taste better--dramatically so. The complex mix of organisms naturally occurring in raw milk leads to a depth of flavor that pasteurized cheeses can't really approach. That's not to say that there aren't any pasteurized cheeses that are excellent, nor are all raw-milk cheeses revelations, but the trend is undeniable.

Factors that Influence Bacterial Growth

As explained by UVM Professor Catherine W. Donnelly in Chapter 9 of the book American Farmstead Cheese, there are a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence how hospitable a given cheese is to bacterial growth. High salt content, high acidity, and the presence of antimicrobial substances in the cheese are all factors that can influence the number of bacterial pathogens. How the milk and cheese are handled both on the farm and in the processing plant also affects bacterial growth.

It's all Relative

Given that, certain cheeses are less risky than others: semi-firm and firm, aged cheeses like the blues, Swiss, cheddars, and most Italian cheeses are considered safer than soft cheeses like ricotta, Brie, Camembert, etc. Moreover, cheeses made at small operations are less risky than those from bigger plants. (Incidence of Salmonella is much lower among farms with fewer than 100 animals than those with more than 100.)

Pasteurization Not a Magic Bullet

There is a theory that pasteurization can in some ways actually be more problematic than using raw milk. Pasteurization kills off any beneficial bacteria that are naturally present in raw milk. These beneficial bacteria could be an important defense against pathogenic growth, especially in a medium such as milk whose high water-content, relatively low acidity and high sugar levels make for a bacteria-friendly environment. Pasteurization also has the appearance of a magic bullet technique, which could lead producers to cut corners by using inferior milk or accepting shoddy procedures with regard to cleanliness. The science hasn't been done yet to bear all this out, but the theory is compelling.

Cleanliness is Next To Godliness

So ultimately Dr. Connelly recommends an approach to raw-milk cheese that involves stricter manufacture along with better bacterial testing throughout. I tend to agree because it would be a shame if the FDA decided to shut down raw-milk cheeses altogether. What about you? Where do you stand in this debate? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.


Serious Cheese: On Raw-Milk Cheese

A few weeks back, JGordon left a comment on my post regarding France's raw-milk cheese war: "Could someone explain the difference between pasteurized cheeses and raw milk cheeses? Does pasteurization just destroy the flavor of cheese. Despite the near-illegality of raw milk and its rare consumption, several hundred people a year become ill from drinking raw milk, with the occasional death. Is cheese safer, or is the taste difference very significant?"

The raw-milk debate isn't going away anytime soon, so I thought it would be a good time to answer questions like those above and lay down my take on the matter.

Raw Milk vs. Raw-milk Cheese

Drinking raw milk is a public health issue. Milk can contain some seriously dangerous bacteria, including Listeria, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella. Before pasteurization became the norm, raw milk consumption was linked with even more serious diseases like typhoid, scarlet fever, and tuberculosis. But making cheese out of raw milk is really a separate issue. For various reasons, raw-milk cheese produced under strict standards of cleanliness is far safer than raw fluid milk.

And yes, raw-milk cheese does taste better--dramatically so. The complex mix of organisms naturally occurring in raw milk leads to a depth of flavor that pasteurized cheeses can't really approach. That's not to say that there aren't any pasteurized cheeses that are excellent, nor are all raw-milk cheeses revelations, but the trend is undeniable.

Factors that Influence Bacterial Growth

As explained by UVM Professor Catherine W. Donnelly in Chapter 9 of the book American Farmstead Cheese, there are a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence how hospitable a given cheese is to bacterial growth. High salt content, high acidity, and the presence of antimicrobial substances in the cheese are all factors that can influence the number of bacterial pathogens. How the milk and cheese are handled both on the farm and in the processing plant also affects bacterial growth.

It's all Relative

Given that, certain cheeses are less risky than others: semi-firm and firm, aged cheeses like the blues, Swiss, cheddars, and most Italian cheeses are considered safer than soft cheeses like ricotta, Brie, Camembert, etc. Moreover, cheeses made at small operations are less risky than those from bigger plants. (Incidence of Salmonella is much lower among farms with fewer than 100 animals than those with more than 100.)

Pasteurization Not a Magic Bullet

There is a theory that pasteurization can in some ways actually be more problematic than using raw milk. Pasteurization kills off any beneficial bacteria that are naturally present in raw milk. These beneficial bacteria could be an important defense against pathogenic growth, especially in a medium such as milk whose high water-content, relatively low acidity and high sugar levels make for a bacteria-friendly environment. Pasteurization also has the appearance of a magic bullet technique, which could lead producers to cut corners by using inferior milk or accepting shoddy procedures with regard to cleanliness. The science hasn't been done yet to bear all this out, but the theory is compelling.

Cleanliness is Next To Godliness

So ultimately Dr. Connelly recommends an approach to raw-milk cheese that involves stricter manufacture along with better bacterial testing throughout. I tend to agree because it would be a shame if the FDA decided to shut down raw-milk cheeses altogether. What about you? Where do you stand in this debate? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.


Serious Cheese: On Raw-Milk Cheese

A few weeks back, JGordon left a comment on my post regarding France's raw-milk cheese war: "Could someone explain the difference between pasteurized cheeses and raw milk cheeses? Does pasteurization just destroy the flavor of cheese. Despite the near-illegality of raw milk and its rare consumption, several hundred people a year become ill from drinking raw milk, with the occasional death. Is cheese safer, or is the taste difference very significant?"

The raw-milk debate isn't going away anytime soon, so I thought it would be a good time to answer questions like those above and lay down my take on the matter.

Raw Milk vs. Raw-milk Cheese

Drinking raw milk is a public health issue. Milk can contain some seriously dangerous bacteria, including Listeria, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella. Before pasteurization became the norm, raw milk consumption was linked with even more serious diseases like typhoid, scarlet fever, and tuberculosis. But making cheese out of raw milk is really a separate issue. For various reasons, raw-milk cheese produced under strict standards of cleanliness is far safer than raw fluid milk.

And yes, raw-milk cheese does taste better--dramatically so. The complex mix of organisms naturally occurring in raw milk leads to a depth of flavor that pasteurized cheeses can't really approach. That's not to say that there aren't any pasteurized cheeses that are excellent, nor are all raw-milk cheeses revelations, but the trend is undeniable.

Factors that Influence Bacterial Growth

As explained by UVM Professor Catherine W. Donnelly in Chapter 9 of the book American Farmstead Cheese, there are a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence how hospitable a given cheese is to bacterial growth. High salt content, high acidity, and the presence of antimicrobial substances in the cheese are all factors that can influence the number of bacterial pathogens. How the milk and cheese are handled both on the farm and in the processing plant also affects bacterial growth.

It's all Relative

Given that, certain cheeses are less risky than others: semi-firm and firm, aged cheeses like the blues, Swiss, cheddars, and most Italian cheeses are considered safer than soft cheeses like ricotta, Brie, Camembert, etc. Moreover, cheeses made at small operations are less risky than those from bigger plants. (Incidence of Salmonella is much lower among farms with fewer than 100 animals than those with more than 100.)

Pasteurization Not a Magic Bullet

There is a theory that pasteurization can in some ways actually be more problematic than using raw milk. Pasteurization kills off any beneficial bacteria that are naturally present in raw milk. These beneficial bacteria could be an important defense against pathogenic growth, especially in a medium such as milk whose high water-content, relatively low acidity and high sugar levels make for a bacteria-friendly environment. Pasteurization also has the appearance of a magic bullet technique, which could lead producers to cut corners by using inferior milk or accepting shoddy procedures with regard to cleanliness. The science hasn't been done yet to bear all this out, but the theory is compelling.

Cleanliness is Next To Godliness

So ultimately Dr. Connelly recommends an approach to raw-milk cheese that involves stricter manufacture along with better bacterial testing throughout. I tend to agree because it would be a shame if the FDA decided to shut down raw-milk cheeses altogether. What about you? Where do you stand in this debate? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.


Watch the video: Dairy: 6 Reasons You Should Avoid It at all Costs (December 2021).