So What’s the Deal with Raw Milk Cheese?

State-by-Stae Raw Milk laws map, found at FarmToConsumer.org

Last week in Lauren’s post about our new raw milk brie-style cheese, The 60, she briefly talked about the controversy surrounding raw milk and raw milk dairy products, and how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently exploring the option of changing current laws and guidelines pertaining to raw milk dairy products–specifically cheese.

Current laws regarding raw milk sales varies state by state, which you can see in the map to the right, from FarmToConsumer.org.  What doesn’t vary however, is that any product made with raw milk (specifically cheeses) must be aged for a minimum of 60 days, along with some other strict guidelines for manufacturing.  During this aging period the acids and salts within the cheese naturally kill off disease-causing pathogens such as Salmonella, E. Coli, and Listeria.  Still though, the FDA and Center for Disease Control (CDC) discourage the consumption of raw milk products.  They have even gone so far as to reconsider the 60 day rule.  Currently, they are debating whether or not to extend this aging period to 120 days–doubling it–or even banning raw milk cheeses all together!

So what does this have to do with you, you may wonder? How many of you love Parmigiano-Reggiano? How about Gruyere? Roquefort?  If a complete ban of raw milk cheeses were put in place, these staples in the cheese world would disappear as we know them. Instead, they would have to be produced with pasteurized milk, which would significantly alter their flavor profile.

Should the aging requirement be lengthened, the same consequences would occur.  Domestic, raw milk favorites–such as Meadow Creek’s Grayson and Grafton Village Clothbound Cheddar–would be significantly changed.  These artisan cheese makers, who are growing immensely in popularity, along with raw milk cheeses in general, would have to completely rework their processes to either be produced with pasteurized milk, or to make the cheese’s life extend past the possible 120 day period–something that is much, much more difficult than it sounds!

This issue is not being taken lightly by cheesemakers though.  These changes would mean significant revamping and losses to the cheese industry in our country.  The American Cheese Society (ACS), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping and growing the artisan cheesemaking industry, has been one of the more influential opponents to the proposed changes.  On April 12, 2012, the ACS released an official Statement on the Safety of Raw Milk Cheese. You can read the statement in full at the provided link, but to briefly summarize, the ACS says that raw milk cheeses that are manufactured to the current FDA guidelines pose no risk to your health.  They also go on to say that, “the majority (approximately two-thirds) of ACS members voluntarily exceed these standards.”

On the same day, the ACS also released a public response to the CDC’s Nonpasteurized Dairy Products, Disease Outbreaks, and State Laws–United States, 1993 – 2006 study.  Surprisingly, the ACS statement draws attention to errors in the CDC report; the CDC proclaims in the report that the sale of all unpasteurized dairy products is illegal, which is completely untrue so long as the said products are manufactured and sold in accordance to the FDA’s specific guidelines.  The ACS also points out the use of misleading language, as well as misleading facts to further confuse the consumer on the safety of raw milk cheese.

So to summarize, don’t be afraid of raw milk cheese!  So long as you do your research and know that the creamery who’s cheese you are consuming meets or exceeds FDA standards, you will nothing to fear in eating raw milk cheese.

We would love to hear from you and where you stand on this issue!  Leave us your opinion in the comments below. And please remember to respect other commenters’ opinions! We like constructive debates here at BK’s Vineyard Market–not mean ones! 🙂

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