Why is it important to preserve traditional cheese?
We support traditional cheese because it is flavorful and healthy, and also because it respects cultural and alimentary heritage. As such, it aligns perfectly with the Oldways model that has long supported the culinary traditions of all cultures. As Michael Pollan has written in the New York Times, “I have yet to hear of a traditional diet—from any culture, anywhere in the world—that is not substantially healthier than the ‘standard American diet.’”
We believe that if a thousand years of history indicate a cheese is healthy and delicious and that if a cheesemaking approach has a long track record of meeting the highest quality and safety standards, then it should not be legislated out of existence. Our advocacy efforts are focused on protecting that right and on preserving traditional cheese.
We are strong proponents of raw-milk (unpasteurized) cheese. We believe that consumers should have the right to decide by themselves and have resources to make an educated decision.
Raw-milk cheese is not only traditional, it is as old as cheese itself. In fact, until Louis Pasteur came along in the mid 19th century, all milk was raw by default.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, microbial organisms are not only responsible for food spoilage they are also fundamental to food preservation. Cheese, like any other fermented food (wine, beer, bread, sauerkraut, to name a few), is a complex interaction between raw ingredients and the ambient microbes in our environment. In reality, very few bacteria are “bad” (i.e. pathogenic) and the good bacteria in cheese ensures that the product remains safe to consume by outcompeting undesirable pathogens.
Not only is raw-milk cheese safe to eat, it is delicious and nutritious. Ambient bacteria in raw-milk, and other microflora present in dairy before heat-treatment, lend a great deal of flavor to the final product that is all but eliminated when the milk is “cooked.” What’s more, there is an expanding body of scientific literature that suggests that food rich in probiotics (i.e. cheese, yogurt, and other fermented foods) are really quite healthy, providing essential vitamins and minerals and potentially helpful with respect to allergies, asthma, and a host of other health concerns.
We do not oppose pasteurization for a number of reasons. Pasteurization has done the world countless good in reducing the risk of microbial pathogens in our contemporary food supply. Without pasteurization we simply could not produce food with the efficiency and scale at which our current food system operates. What’s more, many of our favorite cheeses are made from pasteurized milk and they are some of the most consciously produced cheeses on the market. Finally, because current regulations forbid the production and import of any cheese that is less than sixty days of age, certain cheese styles such as chevre, brie, and many deliciously funky washed-rinds can only be made with pasteurized milk—and life would be the lesser without them.
Non-toxigenic E. coli
The topic is of particular concern for North American consumers because U.S. regulations have recently amended long standing maximum (harmless) E. coli counts in cheese, limiting that number to a threshold all but impossible to achieve by raw milk cheesemakers. European regulations make allowance for a count that is literally a thousand times higher. These changes in policies have further limited the availability of raw-milk cheeses, not only affecting consumers, but putting extra pressure on small European cheesemakers to modify their production methods to continue sending cheeses to the United States.
Any regulation that either directly or indirectly makes traditional or raw milk cheese illegal is of our concern. We are concerned about unintended consequences of there regulations.
Wood Board Aging
Wooden boards are currently used for cheese maturation not only because they have historically been the best available option and their utility has withstood the test of time (although both are true), but most importantly because the physical materiality of wood boards positively contributes to the process of cheese production and flavor development.
We believe that producing safe cheese through sanitary cheesemaking processes is of utmost importance. Based on the body of scientific evidence, we contend that aging cheese on wood boards, a time-tested tradition utilized to produce cheese of the very highest quality, does not challenge this position. This is especially true given that some scientific research indicates that aging cheese on wood might actually have a beneficial anti-pathogenic effect in addition to the more obvious benefits it provides in terms of flavor, ripening, and rind development.
What exactly is “traditional” cheese?
Traditional cheese may refer to either a particular cheese style, or to a cheesemaking approach, that celebrates a rich living-heritage. As such traditional cheeses can come from the Loire Valley in France or the Swiss Alps but also from the Green Mountains of Vermont or the fertile plains of Indiana. Traditional cheeses have historically been made from raw milk and many traditional producers (though not all) carry these time-honored recipes into their modern production. In addition, traditional cheeses are generally made with artisan techniques that take a less mechanized approach and commonly assume smaller production scales. Conscious, skilled, cheesemaking and careful animal husbandry practices are intrinsic to traditional cheese.