Friday, January 18, 2013

The Benefits of Raw Milk Cheese

Hello everyone!

I'm very excited to be hosting my first Raw Milk Cheese class tomorrow at my store from 12 - 1pm. If you're interested, swing on by! No sign up is necessary.

While I wish every single one of you could attend my class, I know that that is not possible. So, I've decided to give you all a glimpse at the handout that I will be passing out at my class. I've inserted pictures into this post (which won't be included in the handout I pass out tomorrow) since I know several of you just view my blog for the pictures :). Please enjoy and let me know if you have any questions!

Raw Milk Cheeses by Leah McFadden, ACS Certified Cheese Professional

*Disclaimer* I am NOT a doctor. I am providing knowledge that I have gleaned from several sources (see endnotes) and while I believe these claims to be true, others may not agree with me. When it comes to yourself and your own diet, please follow what your physician tells you.
What’s the story with raw milk cheeses?
The U.S. government currently prohibits the import of all raw milk cheeses that have not been aged for over 60 days. So that means all of the raw cheeses available to us in the United States are going to be aged. While not a bad thing (any raw milk cheese is better than none), we do not have access to some superb fresh cheeses like Camembert or Brie that are made with raw milk.
Cheesemakers who choose to work with raw milk do so for several reasons. First and foremost, by using raw milk, they are really able to capture the flavors of what the cows/sheeps/goats are eating and surrounded by (i.e. terroir). Raw milk also contains enzymes and bacteria that help produce wonderfully complex flavors that are killed during the pasteurization process. Another argument for using raw milk in cheesemaking is that typically the farms that are using raw milk are “…made on a very small scale with the milk from the maker’s own animals or from neighboring farms, and without factory equipment”. The late Daphne Zepos, a cheese consultant and co-founder of the Cheese of Choice Coalition said, “Such small operations take great care of the health of their animals. Small cheese-makers are very careful (they have to be to survive) and they operate under strict controls. They’re all under the auspices of their dairy inspectors, federal, state, or local. Anybody up and running has to be under some sort of inspection.”[i]

A locally made raw milk cheese from Sacramento valley - Black Butte  Reserve from Pedrozo Dairy. This cheese has a beautiful grassy flavor that would be all but lost if pasteurized.
My experience has been, while not true in all cases, most cheesemakers who use raw milk test their milk more often, have cleaner facilities and have healthier animals altogether. By pasteurizing the milk, the cheesemaker may not be as careful with the milk and the end product because they believe that pasteurization had killed any and all harmful bacteria. The fact of the matter is even after pasteurization, if the facilities where the cheese is made are not clean and sanitary, harmful bacteria can make its way into the cheese. 

A imported raw sheep's milk cheese from France - Roquefort. In order to be called Roquefort, only raw milk may be used.
Westcombe Cheddar, another raw cow's milk cheese but this time from England. Super nutty and flavorful.
A passage that I love from Max McCalman’s book Mastering Cheese: Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager is as follows: “The fundamental fact is that eating raw-milk cheese is not equivalent to drinking raw milk. (If you forget everything else in this chapter, please remember this!) Viewed from a food-safety perspective, the cheesemaking process is nothing more than a series of steps aimed at preserving fermented milk in beneficial (and hopefully delicious) form. In addition to the flavor-giving properties, all those substances developed and/or introduced during cheesemaking – acids, salts, bacteria, molds – have preservative effects: they banish the pathogens and promote the bennies.”[ii]

Possibly one of the most famous raw cow's milk cheeses in the United States, Le Gruyere.
Health benefits of raw milk cheese

Raw milk contains enzymes that help with the digestion of milk. When milk is pasteurized, most of those enzymes are killed causing the milk to be harder to digest and in many cases leading to the all-encompassing ailment of lactose intolerance. By keeping those enzymes alive, even people who have been diagnosed with lactose intolerance can digest the milk more easily. This is more of an argument for raw milk itself and not raw milk cheese because by the time most cheeses are aged 30 days or more, all lactose is gone from the cheese anyway. But the cheese in itself is basically a pre-digested form of milk and most anyone can enjoy it without pain or discomfort (unless of course you have a true dairy allergy).[iii]

The star of my last post, Appenzeller, a raw cow's milk cheese from Switzerland.


I found a lot of information about raw milk cheese on and here is one quote I thought particularly interesting: “The Sunday Times of London, England, reported in 2007 that raw milk contains 10 percent more B vitamins and 25 percent more vitamin C. The heat used during pasteurization may destroy these nutrients along with the flavor and color of the real milk.”[iv]


The aforementioned article goes on to say “U.S. News & World Report reported in March 2009 that consumption of raw milk and cheese made from it may significantly lower the symptoms of allergic reactions such as asthma, hay fever and eczema. Another study published in the May 2007 edition of the journal “Clinical and Experimental Allergy” also states that children consuming raw milk have a reduced risk of asthma and hay fever.”
What about pasteurized milk cheese?

While this handout is primarily about the benefits of eating raw milk cheese, that does not mean that the pasteurized milk cheeses we sell at Whole Foods Market are sub par  Several of my favorite cheeses are made with pasteurized milk (La Tur, Delice de Bourgogne, Petit Agour, etc). The first Core Value of Whole Foods Market is to sell the highest quality natural and organic products we possibly can. In the cheese department, you can rest assured that whether or not the cheese is made with raw or pasteurized milk, you’re getting a high quality product that has met all of the quality standards of Whole Foods Market.

La Tur, one of my favorite cheeses made with pasteurized cow, sheep and goat's milk.
While there is a lot more studying to be done on the health benefits of consuming raw milk cheese, it is my belief that raw milk cheese is good and good for you. It contains all the natural ingredients that the animals ingest, is tested often to ensure safety and is delicious! If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to email me at I’d be happy to answer any of your questions and if I can’t, I’ll find someone who can.

[i] “Oldways and the Cheese of Choice Coalition.” <>
[ii] MacCalman, Max & David Gibbons. Mastering Cheese: Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager. New York, NY: Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2009
[iii] Pulugurtha, Shamala. “Health Benefits of Raw Milk.” 28 Apr. 2011.
[iv] Pulugurtha, Shamala. “Health Benefits of Raw Milk.” 28 Apr. 2011.

I hope you enjoyed this semi-scientific post and I look forward to seeing some of you tomorrow. We'll be sampling some pretty delicious raw milk cheeses, so don't miss out! I apologize for the slightly wonky format of this post - I've literally been fighting with it for the last 30 minutes and it just won't fix the way I want it to - so please forgive me.  Look forward to a prettier post next time... until then eat, drink and be happy!