Thursday, July 12, 2012

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Can you tell me more about raw cheese?

'Raw' cheeses (those made from unpasteurized milk) fall into a somewhat different category than raw milk. The Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) at the U.S. Food and Drug Agency recognizes hard cheeses made from unpasteurized milk—including cheddar and extra hard grating cheeses such as Parmesan—as being safe to eat, and you will find that organic, "raw milk" cheeses are widely available throughout the United States. It is the fairly lengthy aging process for cheese that lets the cheese develop its own stability and lesser susceptibility to pathogens.
However, even in the case of aged cheese, I recommend that you only purchase cheeses made from unpasteurized milk when the manufacturer can certify that the cheeses are free from unwanted microorganisms. I know that several manufacturers of organic, "raw milk" cheeses actually produce their cheeses from milk that has been heated in a way that falls just under the level of pasteurization (at a temperature of approximately 150-155°F/66-68°C for about 15-18 seconds). In recent research, this "subpasteurization" heating of the milk helps to greatly reduce potential levels of contamination, including contamination with the bacterium E. coli 0157:H7, which has been found to exist in some raw milk cheeses despite a 60-day aging process.
Here are some practical steps that you can take to increase your likelihood of safety when purchasing raw milk cheeses:
  • Stick with hard grating cheeses like Parmesan or hard cheddars and avoid softer cheeses like camembert or brie
  • Choose cheeses that have been aged for the longest period of time, and always for a minimum of 60 days
  • Talk with the clerk in the cheese department and ask for any safety information that is available
Whenever you are purchasing cheese and not certain about the information I"ve described above, I recommend that you stick with cheeses made from pasteurized milk.

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