April 22nd is raw milk appreciation day. Like odd sock day, gratitude day, ugly truck day or speak like a pirate day, it promotes a special interest. But how can you not get excited about a day that celebrates thousands of years of cheesemaking tradition.
Raw milk appreciation day was developed by the Old Ways Cheese Coalition, a not for profit advocacy group based in Boston USA promoting traditional cheese. It is a celebration of unique flavours, history, animal husbandry and cheesemaking. And like all good celebrations it involves eating. On Saturday, you can try raw milk cheese at shops, farms and creameries around the world. Organised tastings and classes are being held in New York, London, Paris, Johannesburg, San Paulo, Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle. You can also have your own celebration at home.
Raw milk cheese is made with unpasteurised milk. Pasteurisation heats milk to kill microbes that can be harmful to human health. While pasteurisation is common practice today, it is a new kid on the block in the history of cheese. Raw milk cheese has an unbroken tradition that started with Neolithic farmers in the Fertile Crescent. Today raw milk cheeses are still legally made around the world, including Australia. A well-known example is C2 made by Bruny Island Cheese Co. Others are imported. You may have eaten comté, parmesan, manchego or roquefort made from raw milk.
Pasteurisation is a good thing and over the last century it has saved many lives. It is effective and kills most microbes. Including those that are important for flavour in cheese. For this reason, raw milk cheese can have greater complexity and interest. The indigenous microbes and enzymes in the milk are a product of the soil, climate, season, pasture and breed of the diary animal. Drawing on tradition and skill a cheesemaker can use raw milk to create cheeses that are unique to the place they are made. Or to use the French term, have the taste of terrior.
I grew up drinking raw milk. We drank fresh creamy milk, ate beautiful homemade butter, but the cheese my mother made was terrible. This experience taught me two things. The first is respect for raw milk. Clean practices are important in the dairy industry, but you need to be extra vigilant with raw milk. The other thing it taught me is that cheese reflects the quality of the milk, but it is the skill of the cheesemaker that makes it good.
Eating raw milk cheese is a personal choice. If you are game, join the celebrations and enjoy the history and tradition of artisan cheese.