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Raw Milk Cheese: From Pasture to Plate

Pleasant Ridge Reserve Cheese

Taste.  Nutrition. Health. Tradition.

Raw Milk Cheese DayThere are so many reasons to celebrate raw milk cheese. That’s why one of our favorite days each year is Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day.  It’s truly a way to live up to our motto of “Celebrate the Artisan.”

Created by the Oldways Cheese Coalition, of which we are the only Colorado members of,  they are committed to preserving traditional methods of cheesemaking.  To that end, we are honored to host one of a handful of flagship events.

Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation DayWhy Raw Milk Cheese?

Want to start a spirited discussion among cheesemakers and cheesemongers?  Bring up raw milk vs. pasteurized cheese.  Most people in the cheese business are passionate advocates of raw milk cheese.  Why? In short, taste!

Raw milk is the only way to create a one-of-a-kind cheese that tastes of the place it comes from.  

Pasteurizing, or heating milk to 145 degrees, creates sterile milk. Cheesemakers using pasteurized milk have to create flavor by adding commercially produced starter cultures. But there are a limited number of cultures available.  That means everyone is using the same “flavor packets,” so the cheeses aren’t unique.  You can make the exact same cheese using milk from California or Japan.

And then there is raw milk.  It has complex flavors because milk is really just an expression of the pasture the animal has eaten and the environment in which it has lived.  A cow eating alpine pasture full of wildflowers is going to produce a different tasting milk than one eating pasture on a windswept island where salty breezes blow across the grass.

Now consider that all cheese is made from four ingredients – milk, cultures, enzymes and salt.  Think of the thousands of cheeses created from just those four ingredients and you can start to appreciate how very important milk is.  If wine is made from great grapes, cheese is made from great milk.  And most cheesemongers believe that raw milk is just a better starting ingredient.

Raw milk cheese is naturally a good source of protein, calcium, and healthy fats. Here’s our cheat sheet as to why raw milk cheese always wins in our world.

Complex Tastes

With raw milk cheese, you taste the breed, the pasture the animals grazed – mountains, hills, valleys, plains – and the season, young spring grass, rich summer grass.  In other words, you get a taste of place and time.  In fact, one of the reasons that cheesemakers starting using pasteurized milk was to create cheese that was more consistent in texture and flavor regardless of the time of year or what milk went into the mix.

Digestive Health

Raw milk cheese is a natural source of healthy probiotics to support better gut health and digestion.  It’s also a great source of protein and healthy fats.

General Health and Nutrition Benefits

Raw milk cheese has a ton of vitamins, amino acids and fatty acids that occur naturally in milk but are stripped out in pasteurization.  It’s a great source of protein and numerous vitamins as well as CLA (a healthy Omega 3 fatty acid).

CLA is believed to be beneficial for heart and vascular health and may help maintain lean body mass.  There is even research that says the unique type of saturated fat found in raw milk cheese may help protect against Type 2 diabetes.

Also, the beneficial bacteria in raw milk cheese can contribute to a strong immune system and may help improve allergies and asthma, like raw honey.

Safety: Retains Good Bacteria

A common misunderstanding is that raw milk cheese is unsafe.  But the reality is far more complicated.

Pasteurization kills all the bacteria naturally present in milk, good or bad.  So, if a bad bug is introduced into the cheese, there are no good bacteria to battle it.  That’s why if you look at cheese recalls, there are three times as many pasteurized cheeses on the list than raw milk cheeses.

Pasteurization was developed in the mid-nineteenth century when cows were often kept in dirty barns, sanitation practices were poor, and milk could be quite dangerous. Conditions have changed significantly since then, but U.S. laws are getting more restrictive and not less.

Still concerned?  U.S. laws are much stricter than European laws, where raw milk cheeses are celebrated. The U.S. requires raw milk be aged over 60 days. That’s why we can’t produce (or import) those amazing raw milk Camemberts and Bries from France.

Raw Milk is Not the Same as Raw Milk Cheese

Raw milk cheese is not the same as drinking raw milk, which is much more dangerous. The fermentation process that is cheesemaking breaks down milk sugars into lactic acid, which kills most dangerous bacteria. So even if there were unhealthy bacteria in the milk, the cheesemaking process would kill them. 

Tradition/Support Small Farmers + Artisan Producers

Traditionally, cheese was always made with raw milk.  It’s only in the last century that cheesemakers started pasteurizing the milk.  In fact, the reason cheese was “invented” was as a way to preserve raw milk before refrigeration.