If you enjoy Parmigiano Reggiano, Bellwether Farms San Andreas and Pleasant Ridge Reserve, now’s the time to show them the love. All three are raw-milk cheeses—a shrinking category both here and abroad—and on Saturday, April 18, the spotlight is on them.
Merchants in the Bay Area and around the country will be celebrating the first Raw-Milk Cheese Appreciation Day with tastings, classes and events. At the Cheese Board in Berkeley, all the pizzas that day will be made with raw-milk cheeses exclusively. In San Francisco, Rainbow Grocery and Say Cheese will be sampling a variety of raw-milk cheeses, and both Bi-Rite Markets will host raw-milk cheesemakers. Whole Foods Markets will have promotional pricing on select raw-milk cheeses, and in Napa, Oxbow Cheese Merchant will feature a raw-milk cheese board. Click here to learn about events in your community that day.
“So often, raw-milk cheese gets couched in negative terms,” says Brad Jones, program manager for the Cheese of Choice Coalition, which initiated the celebration. “We wanted to bring positive attention and appreciation to raw-milk cheese, which has been around since time immemorial and has an amazing reputation for quality.”
An admirable safety record, too. Although many consumers believe raw-milk cheese presents more of a health risk than pasteurized-milk cheese, the record shows otherwise. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), states reported 122 dairy-related disease outbreaks between 1993 and 2006. (“Dairy” includes fluid milk.) Of these incidents, 27 were linked to unpasteurized cheese; 38 to pasteurized cheese. Clearly, pasteurization does not guarantee safety; cheese (or any food) can be contaminated downstream by a food handler.
Here’s the key question: How often is raw-milk cheese from a licensed facility implicated in food-borne illness? I challenge anyone to find the answer in the CDC or USDA data, but I know it’s rare. My guess is that most of the illness attributed to raw-milk cheese can be traced to illegal, so-called “bathtub cheese,” sold at flea markets and informally in immigrant communities and not aged for the 60 days that the law requires.
Compared to produce, meat and poultry, aged raw-milk cheese is a blip on the chart of foodborne-illness causes. In the decade from 1998-2008, leafy vegetables were the biggest culprit, but nobody is talking about banning them.
Despite the evidence, here’s your government’s advice: “CDC recommends that consumption of unpasteurized dairy products cannot be considered safe under any circumstances.” Personally, I have far more confidence in aged raw-milk cheese than in a fast-food burger. Is it any wonder that raw-milk cheese producers feel threatened and deserve an Appreciation Day? Pick up and enjoy an American raw-milk cheese this week, if only to know what your public-health officials consider too risky to eat.
Bellwether Farms San Andreas (CA)
Consider Bardwell Pawlet (VT)
Fiscalini Cheddar (CA)
Grafton Village Cheddar (VT)
Jasper Hill Farm Bayley Hazen Blue and Winnimere (VT)
Marieke Gouda (WI)
Maytag Blue (IA)
Meadow Creek Farms Grayson (VA)
Milton Creamery Flory’s Truckle (IA)
Point Reyes Farmstead Original Blue (CA)
Redwood Hill Farm Feta (CA)
Rogue Creamery Rogue River Blue and Caveman Blue (OR)
Shelburne Farms Cheddar (VT)
Spring Brook Farm Tarentaise and Reading (VT)
Sweet Grass Dairy Thomasville Tomme (GA)
Uplands Dairy Pleasant Ridge Reserve (WI)
Vermont Shepherd (VT)