BY JULIA ROGERS
The phrase, “raw milk cheese”, typically generates excitement and strong
around the cheese counter. Unfortunately, there is plenty of confusion fuelling
conversation, and a lack of clarity regarding even basic definitions. This is no
cheese makers, importers, distributors and retailers describe and label cheese
inconsistently from place to place, and sometimes mislead the cheese loving
the risk of adding to the perplexity of it all, here is a primer on the words in
use and what
they likely mean.
RAW vs. PASTEURIZED vs. THERMALIZED
After collection from the dairy animal, and before cheese
making begins, there is a range
of heat treatment processes milk can undergo.
The milk can go directly to the cheese vat, or be chilled
then re-heated to no more
than 40 degrees C (its “straight-from-the-source” temperature) before cheese
making begins. By law in the European Union, and by cheese maker agreement
Québec, this milk is defined as “raw” (lait cru).
The milk can be heated to 72 to 74 degrees C for 8 to 12
seconds, or heated to 62
to 65 degrees C for 30 minutes, then chilled before re-heating at the start
cheese making. In all dairy jurisdictions, milk treated this way is called
The milk can be heated to 60 to 65 degrees C for 15 to 30
seconds then chilled
before re-heating at the start of cheese making. Most accurately, this milk
called “thermalized” (lait thermisé). It can also be called
although that is a much broader term as it also applies to raw milk.
marketing materials refer to thermalized milk cheeses as “gently
this is incorrect, as milk either is or is not pasteurized, and thermalized
milk is not
WHOSE DEFINITION IS ON THE LABEL?
Even if cheese consumers take the time to understand the differences between
heat treatments, they’ll still be confused about what they’re eating as not all
producing regions agree on terminology for heat treatment of milk apart from
“pasteurization”. Here are a few examples of the consequences:
Raw milk on the ingredient list of
Baluchon (Québec) means milk unheated
beyond 40 degrees C, but raw milk on the ingredient list of Jensen cheddar
(Ontario) means something different, as in Ontario “raw milk” implies only
pasteurized”. Jensen cheddar is in fact made of thermalized milk.
Riopelle, a thermalized milk
cheese from Québec, is shipped out-of-province in
packing boxes that say non-pasteurisé – technically accurate.
Toronto cheese vendors often translate this to “raw milk” – something
would make no claim to in Québec.
Classic French cheeses including
Chabichou, Valencay and Camembert are
traditionally made of raw milk and eaten before they reach 60 days of age
time at which raw milk cheeses become legal for retail sale in Canada).
Mysteriously, they appear in Toronto shops when only a few weeks old. Their
boxes and paper labels may say nothing about milk treatment, or may proclaim
lait cru, while the distributor’s label (stuck on the bottom or on
package) reads lait thermisé. What’s going on? Apparently French
cheese makers maintain a separate production line for thermalized versions
young cheeses that would be illegal in North America if made of raw milk. In
some cases, they do not create distinctive labels and boxes to reflect this,
on the importer/distributor to provide labeling appropriate for the importer
Finally, there are still many
cheeses, particularly from Italy, Spain and Portugal that arrive at the
fromagerie with a single ingredient label that reads: milk, rennet,
salt. It’s often up to the distributor or retailer to guess what heat
milk has sustained.
Toronto cheese shops abound with tasty, well-crafted cheeses made from raw,
thermalized and pasteurized milk. There are artisan and farmstead producers
using pasteurized milk, and large-scale industrial producers using raw milk. In
rare cases when
gastrointestinal illness has been linked to cheese consumption, raw, thermalized
pasteurized milk cheeses are equally likely to have been identified as the
Despite this, consumers deserve clarity on the label. Those who prefer
milk cheese will not be pleased to learn they have been consuming products whose
has been thermalized to the extent that 95% of its micro-flora has been
Equally important, raw milk cheese makers deserve recognition that their
distinct from those made with thermalized milk.
The hot, humid summer deals a blow to most appetites. Cheese becomes a “just a
bite” treat during these salad days. This is the season to savour small morsels
of fullflavoured fromage or modest portions of fresh cheese with a
generous side of local fruits
Jensen Extra-Old Cheddar: This three-year-old thermalized cow’s
milk cheddar from a
family-owned Ontario heirloom company is our house cheese when school’s out and
snacking kids are under foot. Fragrant of citrus and leather, the creamy smooth
tastes of orange zest and browned butter. Melt thickly on sunflower rye, and
fresh sliced tomatoes, salt, pepper and fresh oregano.
Toscano: This solid, rich cheese is
created from transitional organic pasteurized sheep milk provided by South
Western Ontario Mennonite shepherds. Cheese maker Ruth Klahsen of Monforte Dairy
delivers classic aged sheep cheese flavours of citrus, lanolin and salty
caramel. Toscano is wonderful with fresh fava beans or grilled asparagus, olive
oil and cracked black pepper.
Ewenity Feta: An Ontario version of Greece’s most famous
cheese, this pasteurized
100% sheep milk offering from Ewenity Dairy – North America’s second largest
dairy co-op – is rich and flavourful, not simply salty. Cube into a fresh fig,
mint salad dressed with seasoned rice-wine vinegar.
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