For centuries, traditional cheeses such as authentic French Brie, goat’s milk cheese and blue cheese have been treasured by gourmands for their rich, distinct flavors. Now, a new French study shows that cheeses made from raw, unpasteurized milk offer not only superb taste but protection against pathogens.
In the study, published in the May 2014 edition of International Journal of Food Microbiology, French researchers found that the presence of specific microbiota in raw milk, along with the use of time-honored cheese-making techniques, protected traditional AOP cheeses from contamination by pathogens.
What are traditional AOP cheeses?
In order to be designated “traditional,” the cheese must be produced in a limited geographical area and made with specific techniques that have been passed from generation to generation. It also must be made using milk that has undergone little or no processing after being taken from the cow or goat. Cheeses classified as “artisan” have been made on location where the animals are milked.
An AOP cheese is one that has earned the certification “Appellation d’Origine Protégé,” which guarantees it is made in a specific region using agreed-upon techniques.
To enjoy truly authentic French Brie cheese, however, you may have to travel to France. Since 1985, the FDA has required that cheeses must be pasteurized or aged 60 days before being imported to the United States.
Raw milk cheese has built-in protection from microbes
Raw milk contains 300 species of bacteria, along with at least 70 different yeasts. It is these native microorganisms that provide traditional cheese with specific flavors, and that confer unique protection as well.
Researchers noted that surfaces of the wood used to prepare traditional raw milk AOP cheese were coated with a complex biofilm that inhibited such disease-causing microbes as salmonella, Listeria m., E. coli and staphylococcus aureus. The team concluded that when raw milk cheese is prepared properly and according to traditional techniques, there is little risk of contamination by pathogens.
Raw milk can protect against allergies and asthma.
The incidence of allergies has been rising sharply in developed counties all over the world, and 54.3 percent of the United States population currently suffers from allergic reactions – a fact which makes the studies on raw milk and allergy protection particularly significant.
In an epidemiological study published in 2011 in American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, researchers found that farm children who consumed raw milk early in life were less likely to have asthma and hay fever than children who grew up in urban areas, or in rural areas but not on working farms.
The team theorized that whey proteins, particularly alpha-lactalbumin and lactoferrin, were responsible, and credited lactoferrin with having not only pathogen-inhibiting qualities but the ability to stimulate and regulate immune system cells, both in the cheese making process and in the stomach.
Heated or boiled farm milk and commercial milk do not have the same protective effects.
A second study, published in April 2012 in Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, replicated the results of the first; researchers found that raw milk and allergies were inversely associated among Amish children in northern Indiana.
However, the scientists did not go so far as to recommend the consumption of raw milk, noting that many pathogens – including staphylococci , Listeria, pseudomonas and enterobacteriaceae – were present in the raw farm milk used in the studies.
Instead, they noted the protective effect on children who were already consuming it regularly, and expressed their hope of finding a way to process a milk that would be both preventive and completely safe.
Should I switch to raw milk and cheese?
The consumption of raw milk and cheese is a controversial topic, and the availability of these products varies from region to region. Currently, only 28 states allow their sale. In states that allow it, raw cheese and milk may be purchased directly from farmers or through food buying groups.
Adherents say that raw milk’s beneficial bacteria colonize the digestive tract and create an unfriendly environment for pathogens, while its lack of pasteurization causes it to contain more vitamins and natural enzymes than “shop” milk.
Foes of raw milk point to the dangers of infectious disease, arising from the fact that human pathogens can be found in up to 12.6 percent of raw milk samples. Of course, the Food and Drug Administration strongly discourages the consumption of raw milk.
In the end, it is a decision only you can make.
Raw milk cheese is a delicious and nutrition-rich food that carries unique risks and benefits. Check with your doctor before trying it, especially if you are pregnant or have a medical condition.