The Case for Raw Milk Cheese
Imagine a world where raw milk cheese is outlawed. Imagine a world where in order to enjoy a raw milk delicacy, you had to throw an underground speakcheesy. For many reasons, raw milk cheese can't seem to escape from the reputation as being a controversial food. Raw milk enthusiasts worldwide often blame this stigma and tinted public perception on industrial agriculture, which is the foundation of our agricultural system worldwide. But why would large scale agriculture have a bone to pick with small to medium-scale raw milk cheese operations? It is because they cannot produce the liquid gold themselves.
Firstly, it is important to point out that raw milk cheese is the origin of cheese. It is pure milk, unadulterated, that has been fermented, coagulated, drained, and pressed. It is the origin of all traditions of specialty cheese worldwide. In the industrial era, however, when agriculture became a leading commodity, quantity of production became more important than quality. Farmers rapidly and haphazardly increased their production capacity, and due to a lack of regulation and quality control, people started to get sick. The quickest fix to contaminated milk was a heat treatment process called pasteurization, which kills all the good and bad bacteria that could potentially be present in raw milk.
Don't get me wrong: today, I love pasteurized cheeses almost just as much as raw milk cheeses. There is an art and a science to making both styles well. But I do think it's about time that raw milk cheese gets the recognition it deserves, even if it isn't within the interests of agricultural corporations. To make a cheese well - whether it's pasteurized or unpasteurized - requires quality control from animal to pasture to milk to cheese room to cave, and I think that's something we can all get behind.
For Raw Milk Cheese Day this year, we threw a prohibition-themed party with raw milk cheeses, pairings, and a honey cocktail. After all, raw milk cheese has become just as political as alcohol in the 1920s.
How to Throw a Memorable Raw Milk Cheese Celebration (Prohibition Edition)
Choose Your Cheeses
When you shop raw milk cheese in the United States, it can be challenging to find something softer than semi-soft. This is because high moisture cheeses that are aged under 60 days, are in fact illegal to sell here. The scientific theory is that pathogens cannot survive in a cheese after it has developed its own cultures and enzymes through the aging process: the cheese's paste and rind has been taken over by good, tasty bacteria and causes the pathogens to disappear. As we know, however, this rule does not apply in Europe, and they are doing very well there.
In the Grotto: Pecorino Caggiano, Top Right: Oma, Bottom Left: Parmigiano Reggiano, Bottom Right: Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Ontop of the Grotto: Manchego paired with Pepper Crush Pepper Paste.
Luckily, I came across Oma, a spreadable, delicious washed rind raw cow milk cheese, produced by the Von Trapp Farm, and aged at Jasper Hill Cellars in Vermont. It is slightly firmer than an authentic Reblochon, and it's flavor is impeccably balanced, buttery, meaty, and roasted nutty. Raw milk Bleu D'Auvergne Fermier was featured as well. It is a deliciously buttery well balanced blue cheese that is one of my all time favorites (see pairing below).
I chose Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a raw cow milk Wisconsin cheese modeled after Beaufort. It is firm with a rich, lush paste that tastes of walnuts, butter, and light caramel. It's closest in European counterpart at the party was Gruyere AOP, the most beautiful, melt-in-your-mouth texture, studded with delicate crystals.
I found three firmer European cheeses, dotted with protein crystals (aka flavors bombs) that all have slightly different flavor profiles: a raw sheep milk Pecorino Caggianno that is well rounded and grassy, the OG Parmigiano Reggiano which is incredibly complex, fruity, bright, nutty, Boerenkass Gouda which is of the super-aged farmhouse variety and made in Holland, and a classic raw sheep milk Manchego from Spain which is tangy with mellow lanolin notes.
Aged Boerenkass Gouda and Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Served with orange blossom honey poached rhubarb and watercress.
Gruyere AOP featured with colorful vegetable chips, roasted golden beet, cara cara orange slices, olives, and a chestnut honey.
The Bleu D'Auvergne is paired with thyme honey roasted grapes, walnuts and almonds, and a red wine vinegar reduction. Call Me Caramel is also featured for the occassion: the Gruyere AOP Cheese Caramels are a savory, sweet, umami experience unlike no other.
Have Fun With The Pairings
I enjoy making the table spread into a wonderland of flavors so that the guest can mix and match, and explore combinations. Accouterments such as pepper flakes, dates, pomegranate, avocado, honeys, and roasted fruits and veggies can all taste magically delicious with different pairings. It helps to have two Grottoes to arrange a multi-tiered display that catches the eye ;-).
Make one cocktail that works for everything (and add some champagne for kicks)
I chose a raw honey cocktail modeled after the Saint Florent Cocktail, featuring Cheese Companions' orange blossom honey.
Place all ingredients in a shaker and shake until frosty:
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons Aperol
1 tablespoon honey
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
Pour into glasses and top it off with:
Champagne or sparkling wine
Lime wheel for garnish
Go Forth and Celebrate
#Rawmilkcheeseday only comes but once a year, so join the global party on Saturday, April 22nd, and be sure to tag all your photos #rawmilkcheeseday. Can't host this year? Visit a list of upcoming events to attend on the Oldways Cheese Coalition Website.
All photos by Jess Hitt.