At The Boulevard Market, we discuss the subject of raw milk on a regular basis. We are sampling cheeses daily that are made of pasteurized milk and raw milk, sometimes it's the same type of cheeses one raw milk, the other pasteurized milk. The question is always the same; "Are raw milk cheeses better?"
The answer is not simple and that's why we are only discussing the cheese making perspective in this post. The answer is; "It depends on the cheese maker's desired results".
There is a huge misconception that all European cheeses not exported in Europe are raw milk. It's not true. We ate many cheeses in Italy and France that were pasteurized and labeled for sale as such. (No, they are not just sending the Americans their crappy cheeses.) It's true that many European soft cheeses WERE raw milk that, by law, are not available in the USA. (We also had choices of raw milk or pasteurized yogurts in both countries) Our law states cheeses must be aged at least 60 days, which pertains to most brie and other soft and/or fresh cheeses. I purposely purchased raw milk soft cheeses to see if I could tell the difference from what I eat at The Boulevard Market everyday. With the exception of 4 soft cheeses, I could not blatantly tell which were raw. Now, there was a huge difference in the raw milk brie, but the Fromage de Meaux and Brie Nangis that we procure are pretty fantastic and would satisfy a European ex-pat. I would also like to note that most brie produced in France was quite flavorful and strong. From a retailers perspective, most of my customers want a little less potent.
The cheese maker's perspective comes into play when choosing what cheeses to create. Raw milk cheese ages much more quickly than pasteurized. So obviously, if you are looking at creating older cheeses, you would want to pasteurize that milk to acquire the desired result after aging for X amount of years. Let me point out a couple particular cheeses that do better with gently pasteurized milk. Gouda, from the Netherlands. It cannot age for 5 years if made of raw milk. Goat cheeses in particular are usually pasteurized in even the most rural areas of Europe for any type of storage, as they age really fast.
The one question you might want to ask the cheese maker is HOW are they pasteurizing? At Four Corners Creamery, we pasteurize at 145 degrees for 30 minutes. By using this method, we still preserve essential enzymes and proteins necessary for great cheese and abide by the laws.
A question I like to ask people that are proponents of drinking raw milk and eating only raw milk cheeses "Why?"
On the personal opinion side of things I tend to think about issues like raw milk and organically grown foods in broader terms. There are many bacterias that are extremely harmful to humans, do I want to take the PURPOSEFUL chance in consuming them if I don't have to? I completely agree that the less processed a food is the healthier it is. Does heating whole milk to kill off mainly harmful bacteria fall into the category of processing? Have you seen milk that comes straight from the farm? Do you know how the farmer prepares his cows for milking? Every time, every cow? What does he use to clean his equipment? Are you getting residue? Do you wash your organic produce? Are you familiar with the list of pesticides approved for organic growing?
These are questions I like people to think about, whatever your choice may be. When we are all informed, we make better choices in foods.