Raw and Pasteurized Milk
Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized and contains all of its original bacteria, minerals, and enzymes. Raw milk is commonly used to make cheeses all over the world, and almost without fail produces cheeses that are more complex in aroma and flavor, and that have longer tastes. That is, the initial taste is different from the finish taste, which makes the experience of eating the cheese all that more delightful.
People who are able to do side-by-side comparisons of the same type of cheese made from raw and pasteurized milk often find the pasteurized version lacking in substantive, bold tastes, which has led many cheese lovers to seek out raw-milk cheeses whenever they can.
In addition, some believe that raw-milk bacteria and enzymes are helpful digestive aids and argue that lactose-intolerant people are able to digest raw-milk cheeses without their usual difficulty. Also, people who aim to maximize their vitamin and mineral intake also seek raw-milk cheeses.
What Is Pasteurization?
Pasteurized milk is milk that has been heated to a degree that kills most bacteria, and stops some enzyme processes. Pasteurized milk is required for young cheeses sold in the United States, and is commonly used in cheese making in many parts of the world. Those in favor of pasteurized-milk cheese value the safety of having harmful pathogens eliminated, and to offset the reduction in taste, cheese makers often go to extra lengths to allow flavors and aromas to develop in pasteurized-milk cheeses through different processes, rinds, and various techniques of adding herbs, spices, or flavorful coatings.
There are several ways to pasteurize milk for cheese. One is to heat it for thirty minutes at 145ºF, and another is to heat it for fifteen seconds at 161ºF. The low-heat (145º) method is often called vat pasteurization because the milk is slowly heated in vats. In the high-heat method, milk is passed through a mechanism resembling a radiator that heats the milk quickly. The higher-temperature method can give cheese a cooked flavor.
Raw Milk Versus Pasteurized Milk
The controversy over raw and pasteurized milk has people of strong opinions in both camps. As mentioned earlier, up until the early 1900s, all cheese was made from raw milk. Pasteurization was not available until the late 1800s, when French microbiologist Louis Pasteur discovered that milk bacteria were killed when the milk's temperature was raised to a certain point, then quickly cooled to prevent spoilage. In 1908, the United States passed the first compulsory law requiring milk from cows to be pasteurized. Since then, milk pasteurization is credited with dramatically lowering the incidence of typhoid fever, scarlet fever, diphtheria, and tuberculosis in the United States.
In France and many other European countries, young and aged raw-milk cheeses have been made for centuries and continue to be made and legally sold throughout Europe. Raw-milk cheeses have not been associated with high incidence of disease in Europe, most likely because raw-milk cheese makers, whether they are making young or aged cheese, must pay extra attention to the type of bacteria that develop in milk at different temperatures, and need to routinely test for bacterial counts. Sanitation conditions must be held to the highest standards to avoid the introduction of bacteria that can develop in unheated milk. Also, raw milk needs to be made into cheese immediately to avoid fluctuations in temperature or possible contamination.
The bottom line is that in the United States today, milk intended for young cheeses (those that will age less than 60 days before being sold), must be pasteurized, and raw milk may only be used for cheeses that age longer than 60 days. This applies to all cheeses sold in the United States, whether made here or imported. Also, many U.S. doctors advise people with special dietary needs and pregnant women to avoid raw milk cheeses as a precautionary measure. As you begin to explore the world of cheese, you'll want to take some time to taste different raw- and pasteurized-milk cheeses and decide for yourself.