Raw Deal


Will you miss them when they’re gone? America’s raw-milk cheeses haven’t been outlawed—yet—but they are definitely under threat. The FDA is currently scrutinizing this tiny sliver of the dairy world and considering heightened regulations. Although an outright ban strikes me as unlikely, the agency may well make compliance so onerous and expensive that many raw-milk cheese producers will toss in the towel.

The lovelies pictured above are among the gems that could fall victim to the FDA’s well-meaning efforts. Clockwise from bottom left, they are Oma, Boont Corners, Bayley Hazen Blue, Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Pepato. These wholesome, award-winning products speak to the vitality of the artisan cheese movement; none of them existed 25 years ago. Their success has helped preserve farmland, kept families on farms and brought immeasurable pleasure to consumers.

Are they dangerous? Well, they aren’t risk free. Nothing we eat is risk free. But raw-milk cheeses aged more than 60 days (in keeping with current law) and made in a licensed facility have been implicated in so few food-borne illnesses that the FDA’s preoccupation seems wildly out of proportion to the risk. Now chicken, on the other hand….

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), passed in 2011, is largely responsible for the agency’s overreach. FSMA mandated that the FDA take action to minimize food-borne illness. In response, FDA has set some bacterial standards that no raw-milk producer can consistently meet. FDA reasoning—misguided, cheesemakers and dairy scientists say—is that creameries that don’t meet these standards aren’t sufficiently sanitary.

If you want to preserve your access to Parmigiano-Reggiano and other aged raw-milk cheeses, please take a minute to complete the Oldways Cheese Coalition survey. Oldways will use the results to make an appeal to the FDA backed by strong consumer data. The more respondents, the better the data.

In the meantime, treat yourself to an All-American platter of raw-milk cheeses…while you still can.

Von Trapp Farmstead Oma (VT): a supple washed-rind cow’s milk wheel with a big, beefy personality;

Pennyroyal Farmstead Boont Corners (CA): a firm mixed-milk (sheep and goat) cheese with an engaging aroma of roasted nuts, brown butter, custard and cave;

Jasper Hill Farm Bayley Hazen Blue (VT): sweet, mellow and buttery, this farmstead cow’s- milk cheese ranks among America’s finest blues;

Upland Cheese Company Pleasant Ridge Reserve (WI): a three-time American Cheese Society Best of Show, this nutty alpine-style farmstead wheel deserves every accolade;

Bellwether Farms Pepato (CA): a farmstead sheep’s milk cheese with lemony notes; lovely shaved in a salad.