If you keep Parmigiano Reggiano in your fridge, you buy raw-milk cheese. This week, please buy some more. Saturday, April 16, is Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day, with events planned internationally to celebrate these endangered cheeses. Check Oldways Cheese Coalition for activities in your community.
Aged cheeses made with unpasteurized (raw) milk are dwindling in number, in part because FDA scrutiny makes life so difficult and uncertain for creameries that work in this traditional way. Even so, some U.S. cheesemakers persist, making at least some of their cheeses with raw milk. I’ve asked several leading cheesemakers who work exclusively with raw milk to tell us why they bother.
“Raw milk is the key to making cheeses that taste like themselves; cheeses with distinctive character and depth. With pasteurized milk, cheeses are only populated by the same, relatively few commercial cultures sold worldwide. Cheesemaking techniques give us a fantastic variety of shapes, sizes and textures, but technique and commercial cultures can only take a cheese so far. The flavor complexity made possible by raw milk adds another dimension, like listening to music in stereo instead of mono.”
Uplands Cheese Company (Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Rush Creek Reserve)
“There was never any consideration of manufacturing cheese any other way. With a degree in nutrition and as a back-to-the-lander, I've always believed in consuming foods in their most natural, unaltered state. My customers remark daily on the exceptional flavor and creaminess of our cheeses. With great milk, appropriate cultures, a careful sanitation program and good judgment, raw-milk cheeses all over the world honor tradition while respecting and responding to modern science. I absolutely love the metamorphosis of watching our pasture grasses become the cheeses with which we nourish our community.”
Sweet Home Farm (Elberta, Bama Jack and others)
“My reasons were personal. I came to cheesemaking from a dairy background. By the time I started making cheese, I’d already spent a decade milking beside my husband, Rick, as we grew our herd and developed our dairy. I loved the land, the cattle and the milk and wanted to take that love into cheesemaking. I didn’t want to just take commodity milk and shape it into something. I wanted to take our milk made from our farm by our cattle and find out what kind of cheese it should be. Raw milk had the potential to do that — to be an expression of a specific place and its people. Of course, potential to make something exceptional carries with it the possibility of spectacular failure. But that was, and still is, what drew me to raw-milk cheesemaking. For better or for worse, my cheese will always be unique.”
Meadow Creek Dairy (Grayson, Applachian, Mountaineer)
“Overall, we prefer natural elements in our life, so using raw milk is an extension of a longstanding lifestyle. Beyond eating natural foods, I prefer natural wood siding on my house, non-synthetic fabric for clothing and more plants than TVs around me. Raw milk has nothing stripped out of it. If it’s handled properly, I think it’s a healthier choice and worth the effort to obtain. It’s probably easier to make cheese with pasteurized milk—less intervention from the FDA—but the results with raw milk are often more flavorful.”
5 Spoke Creamery (Tumbleweed, Browning Gold and others)
Port Chester, NY
“We use raw milk because we believe it makes better cheese. Raw milk contains the natural microflora from the cows and their diet. These native bacteria create a more complex ecosystem than in a pasteurized cheese, producing layers of flavor that give raw-milk cheese its depth. We find that our cheeses also possess a certain ‘terroir’—a common thread—that emanates from our milk. In our cheese, you can taste our farm, our milk and our cave -- all critical factors that make Cato Corner cheese unique.”
Cato Corner Farm (Bloomsdale, Dairyere and others)
“One of the most compelling reasons why we work with raw milk is because it is simply delicious. Our own goats and the few local herds that we source cow’s milk from are fed an all-grass diet. Our animals are on certified organic pasture from mid-May to November, weather permitting. In winter, they eat the hay that we put up in summer. Why waste that flavor that the grass imparts? One of the more noticeable flavor notes in our Manchester or Danby is salted caramel and brown butter. That’s Consider Bardwell Farm’s terroir in a nutshell. Working with raw milk forces you to always be on top of your game, and we like it that way. There’s no ‘pasteurizing out the bad stuff.’ The milk needs to be impeccably clean. Every person along the way is aware of how integral they are to the safety of our cheese.”
Consider Bardwell Farm (Manchester, Pawlet, Rupert and others)
West Pawlet, VT
“Grafton has never standardized our milk. We receive milk from about 30 small farms, and we appreciate the seasonality of the milk. We don't pasteurize because we appreciate the complex flavors from raw milk. We specialize in aged cheddar and, in our opinion, cheddar from unpasteurized milk ages better."
Grafton Village Cheese (Cheddar)
Cooking Class: Ricotta By You
Sunday, May 1
1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
25 North Street
Learn to make fluffy fresh ricotta in your own kitchen. It’s luscious in desserts, dreamy on pasta, sublime with honey. I’ll demonstrate the method for making stovetop ricotta and we’ll taste it against commercial versions. I’ll also share dozens of ideas for using your homemade ricotta and demo two recipes for you to taste: fava bean bruschetta and a strawberry dessert.