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Strange Food Trends: Raw Milk Cheeses

Cathy Strange’s role as global cheese and specialty foods buyer for Whole Foods Market® puts her in the unique position of travelling the world to not only discover and encourage the world’s great cheesemakers, but also to help advance the artisanal food movement and investigate the world’s emergent food trends. If a new preparation technique is causing ripples in Berlin, or a centuries-old curing tradition is gaining a foothold in Seattle, Cathy knows about it.

Raw Milk, Well Done

You know when you take that first bite – the rich array of well-defined flavors and aromatics, the depth of complexity, the unmistakable sense of uniqueness – you have your hands on a raw-milk cheese. Raw-milk cheeses are made with milk that has not been pasteurized. It’s as simple as that. I think of the piquant tanginess of a raw milk blue, or the grassy, herbal depth of a raw sheep’s milk cheese. I often say that savoring a great raw milk cheese feels like a walk in the woods.

Raw-milk cheeses may be firm, oozy, creamy or crumbly and can come in any shape from wheel to block. Almost always made by small-scale artisanal producers, they often come from single-herd cow, sheep or goat milk. Raw-milk cheeses are not as strange as you may think In fact, I’ll bet you’ve already enjoyed a bite or two of these cheeses. For example, the famous Parmigiano Reggiano, can’t be called Parmigiano Reggiano unless it’s made from raw milk – it’s the law! Many other European cheeses, from those big, beautiful Camemberts to some great triple-crème bries, are required by France’s Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) to use raw milk in their production as well.

A Thousand Years of Yum

For over a thousand years and right up to today, raw milk has been the go-to ingredient for great cheeses, and for good reason – flavor. When milk is cooked, or pasteurized, many naturally occurring flavor-rich enzymes (the good bacteria) are destroyed or denatured by the heat and the cheese loses that important flavor-building foundation.

Additionally it’s terroir, that wonderful “taste of place”, that imparts  the unique characteristics of the land in which the cheese is made. Every geographical location has its own unique family of bacteria, fungi and molds wafting through the air, and when these populate the rinds of cheeses, beautiful, distinctly unique flavors happen. The same basic ingredients and processes used in one location can create noticeably different flavors in another location 100 miles away. Using raw milk accentuates these terroir flavors dramatically.

A New-World Raw-Milk Blue

I’ve been in love with Rogue Creamery’s cheeses for some time now. From Oregon’s Rogue River Valley, they’ve been hand-crafting superb award-winning cheeses for more than 80 years. The milk comes from a single-source herd of cows that graze on the banks of the Rogue River where they eat a variety of native grasses, hop clover, wild flowers and blackberries. This creates a supremely flavorful milk that is rich in butterfat and perfect for cheesemaking.

When I cut into a wheel of Rogue Creamery’s raw-milk Caveman Blue, I get a burst of wonderful aromatics of wild grasses and morel mushrooms. The tangy nuttiness and savory complex flavors of burnt cream, hazelnut and wild berries clearly tell you that you have tasted a world-class raw-milk blue. Try it with a glass of H&G’s Washington State Merlot – you’ll love how the cheese surrounds and enhances this lush red wine’s layered, peppery finish.

Be bold! Don’t let the cheese counter intimidate you. Ask the cheesemonger at your local Whole Foods Market for a taste or two of any of our wonderful raw-milk cheeses. And tell me, what new flavors are you finding?

 

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34 comments

Comments

Dan Walker says …

Love the full selection of Baetje cheeses produced locally.

ANGELO SAVALA says …

Great article and thank you for sharing :)

Giovanni Tancredi says …

Love the cheese counter at whole foods all your cheese mangers are well versed

Sue says …

I thought raw-milk cheeses (unpasteurized) were "illegal" in the US. Did this change at some point?

Sarah says …

Thank you for the notes on raw milk cheeses! Can you review any health benefits or concerns regarding eating raw milk products? Thanks again!

Marilyn says …

Finally, a good source for raw cheese, I couldn't agree more with you about the superior taste and health benefits!

Walt says …

Have enjoyed raw milk cheese from Grafton Farms aged 4-years (Black Package). It is the best! Looking for an Extra Extra Sharp Provolone Cheese. Want one that will curl my tongue! Have not had a good one since a local Deli in Philly closed several years ago. Unlabeled-barely chilled-you could smell it a block away!

Trelva Greenhalgh says …

Hurray for Whole Foods for carrying raw milk cheese.....only other place I've seen it is Trader Joe's. It's been a mystery to me why the FDA in the US forbids selling or purchasing raw milk. They approve and allow however selling and purchasing tobacco and alcohol. They label cigarettes and alcohol as "can be hazardous/dangerous to your health." And those items cause many deaths (lung, throat cancer, alcohol poisoning; drunk driving, etc.) every day. However, if you are lactose intolerant and cannot have any milk products that have been pasteurized you are just plain out of luck here in the US. I wonder why they don't allow raw milk and label that as well and let the consumer choose for themselves. Could it be the large Dairy Association??? I love the flavor raw milk cheese. A WF happy customer. Trelva Greenhalgh

beverly says …

FINELY! People are getting interested in raw milk cheeses. Maybe there will be wider and dependable selection now. Cathy Strange didn’t even mention the nutritional value of these cheeses which really sets them apart.

Phil m says …

Got to try it this weekend sounds great thanks.

Kitty says …

I love raw milk cheeses, especially young ones. Lately I've been able to find some locally made ones and I always purchase them, along with the raw milk so I can make my own ricotta and yogurt. I am trying ricotta salata now. Thanks for making people aware of these wonderful cheeses and all of their great benefits.

Helen Hall says …

LOVE Raw Milk Cheese. It is the best cheese on the market. I have dietary issues and cannot eat cows Milk but have no problems at all with Raw Goat or Sheep Milk cheeses...and the tastes are amazing. Thank you so much for supplying this great product.

suzanne shepherd says …

While raw milk cheeses are really good it would be appropriate to remind your shoppers that are transplant patients, or otherwise significantly immunosuppressed that they are not supposed to eat these.

Kelcey says …

So glad raw cheeses that are pasture-raised are coming to Whole Foods! I used to always have to buy it online. Thank you.

Terri Connonelos says …

Hi- I'm wondering how I can buy this cheese. It is exactly what I want for my photo. How much is it? How long does it take to ship. How can I get the price?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@TERRI - Our products vary between stores and at this time, we do not offer shipping for perishable items. If you need this for an editorial purpose, you can find useful ways to find photos/contacts at http://media.wholefoodsmarket.com/faq/.

David Johnson says …

In the past yr., I have purchased Farmers Raw MIlk Gouda, at least a half dozen times at your Greensboro NC location,LOVE it. MY last trip I was told this cheeze was seasonal,you didn;t carry it any longer.Im very dissapointed.Hope you get it back.

Tom Frieling says …

Will the Tallahassee store (opening this week) be carrying Compte--an AOC raw cow's milk French cheese? No one else in Tallahassee seems to be stocking it.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@TOM - We do not have an entire product list for the new store in Tallahassee but once they open, if they do not carry the cheese, definitely let them know. They will be happy to look in to ordering this for you if possible.

Sheryl Hurley says …

I have had a Jersey cow for five months now. I have not made cheese yet but will like to. I'm a little scared to try. What is the first cheese that is EASY that I should try?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@SHERYL - I would suggest reaching out to a cheese vendor for their advice! You can always try to find vendor info from your local store so you can ask someone local and maybe even go see their farm!

Laurie says …

When you make the raw milk cheese, do you leave everything raw or do you heat it to make the cheese itself?

Jon says …

How long does raw milk cheese keep in the refrigerator? There's no expiration; only packaged date. The cheese has been aged for 5 years.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JON - I would check with your local cheesemonger directly. They should be able to let you know the shelf life based on the specific product.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@LAURIE - The only thing heated during the cheese making process is the milk.  The cheese is aged in controlled climate facilities and is kept at or below 41 degrees F during distribution. 

Shirl Fields says …

Can I purchase triple brie cheese at the whole foods in my area at Boca Raton, Fl.?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@SHIRL - Since our products differ, I would suggest calling the Boca store at 561.447.0000 to find out if they have the brie in stock.

Kelly says …

I picked up a raw milk fontina during my last visit to Whole Foods, and I gotta say, it was the worst thing I ever put in my mouth. Like ear waxy, sour milk awful. Is it supposed to taste like that, or did I get a bad batch?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@KELLY - I would suggest calling the store where you purchased this and speaking with the Specialty team. They will be happy to let you know if this is normal and if not, they will be happy to make it right!

Wendy says …

Are raw milk cheeses less acidic than regular cheeses? I have a problem with acid foods and assume raw milk cheeses are less acidic because of not being pasteurized?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@WENDY - I would suggest reaching out to the cheesemonger at your local store for their advice based on what they have in stock. They will be happy to help!

pat says …

I would like to buy RAW milk/cream/butter at Whole Foods like before. I would like to buy RAW Forager d'Affinois cheese (a double cream cow's milk cheese)

Rose says …

I am trying to find Gouda Cheese for my husband. here in Georgia..need to buy it on line ..but the shipping charges are high. Do you have any recommendations. thank you for your time. Ms. Rose

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@ROSE - We do not ship perishable products from our company but we do have quite a few locations in GA. You can find a list of our stores at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/list to see if there is a store in your area that might be able to deliver it for you.