What Is Raw Milk Cheese? And Why Should You Be Eating It?

Always wanted to all the fuss about raw milk cheese is? We've enlisted the help of wine and food specialist to tell us all about it.
CHEESESTACK

Provisions is a shop and importer in North London that specialises in raw milk cheese, natural wine and artisan food products. Walking into the shop is like walking into a world where dairy is king and everyone exists to serve it as best as possible.

Founded by wine and food specialist Hugo Meyer Esquerré, Provisions is – as you'd expect – an excellent spot to pick up some tasty bits for a cheese board that will blow your guests away. And then some. What Hugo doesn't know about cheese simply isn't worth knowing. That's why we've enlisted the help of Hugo to find out what makes raw milk cheese (the stuff his shop specialises in) so damn special. Spoilers: it's got a bit to do with fungus.

What Is Raw Milk Cheese?

Raw milk cheese literally means a cheese made with raw milk, i.e. milk that's come directly from the animal and kept fresh without being pasteurised. Raw milk cheese refers to cheese made with milk that has not been heated more than 40°C – this allows for all the natural flavours and nuance of the milk to remain present in the final product. It’s the antithesis of pasteurised cheeses, which are made with milk that has been heated to 72°C for 15 seconds. While this method will kill all potential bacteria and fungus it will also kill the purity of the cheese and stop its life and evolution in its tracks.

How Is Cheese Produced?

Cheese is generally made of milk, rennet and salt. It starts with the fermentation of the milk, an operation during which some rennet is added to some fresh milk to help it coagulate and separate the whey from the curd. In most cases, the curd is then cut, drained and salted, which is essentially a cheese at its freshest stage. It is then either sold as it is or left to mature for anywhere between a week and several years, often under the guidance of an affineur who regularly turns the cheeses and watches their development. This is regarded as a highly-skilled artisanal job, similar to winemaking.

Raw Milk vs Pasteurised

In worldwide cheese production, there is a very large amount of pasteurised cheeses, as these represent the vast majority of the cheeses you find in supermarkets. Some countries have banned raw milk cheeses as they are said to represent a risk for health. If you think in an industrial way, food has to be standardised and safe, hence the process of pasteurisation, which kills all bacteria to make food "guaranteed" to be safe. Pasteurisation also kills all the bacteria that are good for the body and which are naturally present in raw milk cheeses. Another reason for pasteurising cheese is financial. Raw milk cheese is more labour intensive and risks of wastage are higher so therefore costs are higher.

What Are The Benefit of Raw Milk Cheeses For The Body?

Like wine, cheese is a product that represents the terroir it originates from. Even though the milk comes from animal milk, it’s also a product that shows what the animals are eating (grass, flowers, etc). The diversity of the diet of a cow, goat or a sheep will have an influence on the richness, taste and various other qualities of the milk, and therefore the resulting cheese as well.

Raw milk cheeses contain a great amount of fat, various minerals and oligo-elements, fungus and yeasts that help the body to tackle some illnesses and allergies (as long as they are consumed in reasonable quantities). They also are rich in calcium, phosphorus and vitamins.

Are Raw Milk Cheeses Better?

They are definitely better for the body as they provide a whole lot of nutrients that pasteurised cheeses do not bring. In many cases, raw milk cheeses have flavours and tastes that are more genuine and true to the land they come from. At Provisions, we often refer to those cheeses as "real cheeses", which smell and taste like the cheeses that were produced before industrialisation and large scale production in the mid 19th century.

If a parallel between wine and cheese can be drawn here, natural wine is to conventional wine what raw milk cheese is to pasteurised cheese.

What Are The Benefits of Raw Milk Cheese And Why Is It Better Than Pasteurised Cheese?

Raw milk cheeses are the antithesis of industrial cheese making and pasteurised cheeses. Raw milk cheeses are true representation of the land they are produced from and the animal they come from. They also are a continuation of tradition, of crafts that have been passed from generation to generation for many centuries. Finally, they show the true taste of a product that has been naturally produced. If you taste a St Nectaire from the volcanic soils of Auvergne in France or a Castelmagno from the heights of the Cueno mountains of Piedmont, where a fantastic diversity of flora exist, you are actually tasting the vegetal contents the animals have been grazing.

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