America, as a whole, is not known for making the world's best cheese. Many children growing up in the United States know two cheeses: cheddar and processed cheese (also known, unfortunately, as "American Cheese"). We don't have a wide palate partly because making excellent cheese in America is a newer craft. And that craft is sometimes hurt by regulations that make pasteurization a given. Anything that hasn't been hit with bacteria-killing high heat is viewed with high suspicion. This fear of raw cheese is true of much of the English-speaking world.
But it's been exciting to see American cheese producers start to produce a wider range of cheese, including using some of the raw cheese methods that France is so revered for. While cheesemakers in America have to battle strict regulations on raw cheese, France has a very different view towards raw cheese, long considering it very safe to consume. (Not all of their cheeses are made with raw milk, but many of them are.)
For the cheese producer there are some important considerations for using raw milk. When you kill off bacteria through pasteurization, you are also killing of good bacteria. The milk may be sterile, but sterile in flavor as well. France says it is the good bacteria in milk that produces many of the more amazing cheese flavors.
And not only does the good bacteria in cheese contain the secret to flavorful cheese, it also may be the key to safe raw cheese. France harnesses the power of good bacteria in raw milk and cheese to keep bad bacteria in check, and to keep raw cheese safe.
But a lot of their safety protocols and methods are still not widely understood in the English-speaking world. Bronwen Percival, a cheese buyer in London, is trying to help the rest of us catch up with a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to translate the technical French government manual on cheese microbiology into English.
She says, "Within its pages, the authors show how protecting the natural diversity of carefully produced raw milk is not only crucial for maintaining the identity and flavour of cheese, but also promotes a barrier effect that can help to protect against the growth of pathogens. Rather than subverting modern food safety targets, this approach may actually help cheese producers to achieve them."
Understanding how France produces safe raw cheese could be crucial for the artisan cheesemaking in the English speaking world, so I think it is a wonderful idea! And I hope that American cheese artisans can benefit from this translation as well.
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