According to a recent New York Times article, the FDA will be proposing a review of the 60-day aging for raw milk cheeses made in, and imported to, the US. In 2010 there were 15 recalls linked to raw milk cheeses, sickening around 54 people–with several of the recalls not sickening any individuals. Raw milk, itself, was the subject of 12 recalls, sickening 146 people. Everyone in the raw milk cheese industry, including those that work with the medium here in Maine, would agree that it is 54 people too many. However, they would also be quick to tell you that these outbreaks are few and far between and they would be right.
In the past 13 years, 800 people have been sickened due to raw milk contamination. On average, that’s 61.5 people a year. Putting this year well above average and, with a high profile recall linked to west coast artisan cheese maker, Sally Jackson, raw milk and raw milk cheeses find themselves under questionable FDA scrutiny. I call it questionable because one glance at the FDA website and you know where they stand.
But, where does that put us and, more importantly, where does that put our cheese makers? We are extremely lucky to be living in a state, one of only a handful, that allows the sale of raw milk. In many you have to buy raw milk labeled ‘for pet consumption,’ buy part of the cow–called a herd share–or get it on the black, or in this case green, market.
Before moving here, from New York, I had never known raw milk nor would I have ever considered it an option. Now, because of living here and having had it from places like Caldwell Farms, Straws Farm, Winter Hill, Bisson and Tourmaline Hill Farms, I drink milk. That’s something I hadn’t done since my early teens. Being able to actually taste the milk, all of it’s richness in it’s purest state, brought me back.
And raw milk cheeses? Please don’t even consider putting up an aged cheddar that’s made with pasteurized milk next to one that had raw beginnings because it’s just embarrassing. There IS no comparison between the two. Ask anyone that has spent time over in Europe, that has had fresh raw milk cheeses, like Camembert, and they will tell you what a let down it is to come back home and to be unable to find anything like it state side. But, even those traditions and cheeses are disappearing as we become one big global food family. Homogenization, both culturally and agriculturally, is destroying traditions that have existed for hundreds of years and it seems that hardly anyone in the states, outside of the cheese makers and dairy farmers, is noticing.
Again, I have to ask, “Why?” Because, compared to pasteurized milk, raw milk drinkers make only a fraction of the market. Though, I’m sure if it were legal in more states it would be a different story. Also, it’s easier to go after a niche market than a larger one. In fact, as Iwrite this there is currently a beef recall for Southern California, totally 3,000lbs of possibly contaminated beef. But, think we’ll go after the beef industry and force them to irradiate it all? Never.
All of these have been the cause of massive food safety recalls in the past 20 years and who does the FDA go after? Those affected thousands of people and those industries, for the most part, remain unchanged. So, why look at raw milk cheese now? Because it’s an easy target and the FDA is a fucking bully.
So, this weekend when you’re at K. Hortons, The Cheese Iron, Rosemont Market, Whole Foods, Royal River and the like, seek out US made raw milk cheeses. Celebrate their uniqueness because, sad to say, we don’t know how much longer they’ll be around.