Why protect raw milk cheeses?
It would seem to be an esoteric and minuscule type of food to be promoting and protecting. After all, cheese consumption in the US is growing, and it feels like everywhere there is more cheese being melted on top of potatoes than ever. Surely, social media is full of pictures and micro-videos of cheesy dishes in hipster restaurants. But to be honest, most of that cheese is produced by large manufacturers.
Here at Oldways and especially at the Cheese Coalition, we are honest about the cheese we want to see more of. That’s why three years ago we started a small celebration for the appreciation of raw milk cheeses that has now turned global. We have over 700 events hosted by approximately 150 companies in 15 countries. From South Africa to New Zealand, and from Paris to New York, there are events big and small.
We care about raw milk cheeses, because based on the available science we know that raw milk cheese, made from grass-fed cows, is a source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids and therefore necessary for human health. The only problem is that the body can’t make them, so it is important to have a balanced diet to obtain them—you must get them through food. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inﬂammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioral function. That’s why we always say that the special type of omega-3-rich fat found in raw milk cheese; in addition to the balanced composition of calcium, magnesium, and potassium; may be protective against heart disease.
Raw milk is full of beneﬁcial microorganisms that can contribute to a strong immune system and may help it improve against allergies. Millions of these organisms exist in the milk, rennet, and cultures, and eventually on cheese and rinds. There is ongoing research on the micro-ecosystems they create and how they develop. We are still learning about raw milk cheese, and that is why we think it is premature to ban it. The reality is that once it is gone, it will be very diﬃcult to recover it, which is why we are protecting raw milk cheese today.
But while science and nutrition are important, there are also human and animal components to the many stories of raw milk cheeses. They come from animal breeds and husbandry, to gastronomic culture and heritage. These cheeses are not without their makers or their animals, and like the microorganisms, once the terroir, the production methods, and the lifestyles are gone, it will be very diﬃcult to recover them.
That’s why we are encouraging everyone to appreciate what we have today. Let us learn from what history and custom have taught us, let us enhance it with the developing knowledge we are acquiring, but more importantly, let us cherish the curds, cultures, and communities we have today.
Carlos Yescas- Oldways Cheese Coalition Program Director