Pasteurized and Raw Milks

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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In modern cheese production, the milk is almost always pasteurized to eliminate disease and spoilage bacteria. This is really a practical necessity in industrial cheesemaking, which requires that milk be pooled and stored from many farms and thousands of animals. The risk of contamination—which only takes one diseased cow or dirty udder—is too great. Since the late 1940s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has required that any cheese made from unpasteurized, “raw” milk must be aged a minimum of 60 days at a temperature above 35°F/2°C, conditions that are thought to eliminate whatever pathogens might have been in the milk; and since the early 1950s it has also banned the import of raw-milk cheeses aged less than 60 days. This means that soft cheeses made with raw milk are essentially contraband in the United States. The World Health Organization has considered recommending a complete ban on the production of raw-milk cheeses.