The (Sometimes Dreaded) “P” Word

Last week we talked a little bit about raw milk cheeses and the never-ending debate surrounding them. This week, I’d like to discuss the process every raw milk enthusiast dreads–pasteurization.  For the sake of all our time, I’m not going to get into the pasteurization-kills-the-good-germs / pasteurization-kills-the-bad-germs / pasteurization-doesn’t-kill-germs-period debate.  There is simply too much contradicting information out there on the Internet, and to be honest, it is quite headache inducing.  Instead, you’re going to get a little history lesson!

Once upon a time there was this French guy, Louis Pasteur (get it?Pasteur-ization?).  As history tells it, DR. Pasteur was tasked with determining how to prevent wine and beer from souring.  He discovered that heating the liquid to a certain high temperature for a very specific amount of time kills the germs which cause spoilage.  And just like that, pasteurization was born!  Fast forward a couple years and they realize that this process can kill the bacteria within milk that, at the time, was causing a shocking amount of illnesses and death.  Everyone all over the world became pasteurization-happy.  YAY you didn’t have to worry about dropping dead from drinking milk anymore!

Fast forward even more to modern times and we still practice pasteurization–though it has dramatically evolved.  Nowadays, there’s multiple ways to pasteurize milk.

  • High Temperature Short Time (HTST or Flash Pasteurization) treatment brings milk to 161 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds.
  • Low Temperature Long Time treatment brings milk to 145 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.
  • Ultrapasteurization heats milk to 280 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 seconds.  This extreme process allows for an extra 60 to 90 days shelf life for milk.  Unfortunately it cooks the milk so much that it can not be used for cheese making.

There is also another process called thermalization.  This method heats milk to approximately 145 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 30 seconds before immediately chilling.  The milk is then re-heated during the cheese making process.  Thermalization is great because while it still cooks the milk to kill bacteria, the low temperature allows for the raw milk flavors to survive.  Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still considers thermalized milk cheeses to be raw milk, while the European Union (EU) considers them to be pasteurized.   Therefore, any imported thermalized milk cheeses must be aged to the FDA required 60 days.

Interesting, isn’t it? I bet you never realized all the work that goes into that little hunk of cheese sitting on your crackers!

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