Whether or not to use unpasteurized milk to make cheese is a hotly contested debate in the world of cheesemaking and among cheese consumers. Some argue that raw milk gives cheese better flavor and others claim that cheese made from pasteurized milk can be just as delicious and satisfying.
Many point to traditional European cheeses made with raw milk, such as Brie and Camembert, as proof that raw milk really does make superior cheese. Others point to high-quality artisanal cheeses made in the United States, such as those made by Andante Dairy in California or Beecher's Handmade Cheese in Washington state, as proof that pasteurized cheese is no less flavorful.
01 of 04
What Is Unpasteurized Cheese?
Unpasteurized cheese, also known as raw-milk cheese, is made from milk that has not been pasteurized. Pasteurization occurs during cheesemaking when milk is heated at the beginning of the cheesemaking process to destroy microorganisms that can potentially cause sickness or spoilage. In addition to destroying potentially dangerous microorganisms, some argue that pasteurizing milk also destroys the aromas and flavors that lead to great cheese.
Cheese made with unpasteurized (raw) milk can't be sold in the USA unless it has been aged for at least 60 days. This is regulated by The Food and Drug Administration. After 60 days, the acids and salts in raw-milk cheese and the aging process are believed to naturally prevent listeria, salmonella, E. coli and other harmful types of bacteria from growing.
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How Is Milk Pasteurized?
Pasteurized cheese is defined as cheese produced with milk that has been heated to a temperature of 161 F for 15 seconds or to 145 F for 30 minutes or more.
Standard pasteurization occurs between 158 and 162 F, however, there are many different methods of pasteurization and the temperature and length of time the milk is heated can vary. One example of this is known as Low-Temperature Long Hold (LTLH) pasteurization. The milk is heated up to 149 F for up to 40 minutes. This method is often favored by cheesemakers because enzymes and bacteria thought to be crucial for cheesemaking, survive in this gentler pasteurization method.
Different from pasteurization is a process referred to as "cooking" cheese. During the cheesemaking process for some styles of cheese, the curds are "cooked" briefly at a temperature between 104 to 120 F. "Cooking" the curds is done to change the texture, making the resulting cheese firm but pliable and tender. The curds for some raw-milk cheeses are "cooked" (such as Fontina and many types of Swiss cheese) and there are also some pasteurized cheeses (like mozzarella) that have been cooked.
03 of 04
Does Unpasteurized Cheese Taste Better?
Yes. And No. Although cheesemakers and lovers will passionately argue both sides of this debate, whether or not cheese made from raw milk tastes better than cheese made from pasteurized milk is strictly a matter of personal preference. There are many amazing, high-quality, artisanal cheeses that are made from pasteurized milk. There are also many amazing kinds of cheese made from raw milk. The important thing is that cheesemakers are given a choice and allowed to use the type of milk they feel is best for the type of cheese they are making.
It is also important to remember that factors other than whether or not the milk is pasteurized affect the quality of cheese. Some other considerations are:
- Is the cheese made in a factory or is it handmade?
- Is the milk (raw or pasteurized) gathered in a clean, sanitary place?
- Is the cheese being made in a clean, sanitary place?
- Are the animals allowed to graze freely in a pasture and eat a variety of plants?
- Is the cheesemaker skilled?
- How is the cheese being aged?
- Is the store that is selling the cheese handling and storing it properly?
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Where Can I Buy Unpasteurized Cheese?
Unpasteurized cheese is sold in shops all around the world. In the United States, however, laws regulate the sales of cheese made from unpasteurized milk.
In the USA, raw-milk cheese can only be sold after it has aged for at least 60 days. It is not permissible to bring raw-milk cheese that has not been aged for at least 60 days into the country, even if only for your personal consumption.
In a good cheese shop, the cheesemonger will be able to point out any types of unpasteurized cheese that they sell. In stores that sell pre-packaged cheese, it should indicate on the label if the cheese is unpasteurized.