The US laws surrounding raw milk are- like turning right at a traffic light or sales tax- different state by state. Some states have strict laws where it is simply banned, like New Jersey. Some states, like Texas and others out west, have ‘farm sale’ legal. Others like Wyoming and Ohio allow you to own part of a cow, known as herd sharing, to effectively legalize it through the back door… Other states simply sell it at the store, like New Hampshire and California. So what about raw milk cheeses?
Here things become much simpler. For now. The federal law is all raw milk cheeses must be aged for 60 days, with the basic science behind it being any dangerous bacteria will be killed off during this aging process. Of course, longer aging cheeses (such as Parmesan) are completely unaffected, but other cheeses that require aging for shorter periods must be sure to nudge over the two month mark. So what does this really mean for cheese makers in America?
Firstly, it means a lot of European cheeses, in particular raw milk ‘Meccas’ such as France, cannot sell fresher cheeses into the American market. For American cheese makers, it means strongly considering, or in some cases being forced, to pasteurize their milk. And any true cheese making artisan will debate for hours about the merits of the flora losses and changes to flavor any heat treatment does to their ‘work of art’.
America is not alone- Canada, New Zealand and Australia share the same 60 day law. This fairly old law is based on evidence any dangerous bacteria are killed off by chemical activity in that time period. BUT… as with almost unenforceable raw milk laws crossing state borders, raw milk cheeses are appearing on the store shelves and deli counters, openly flouting the federal 60 day law. Both imported and domestic raw milk cheeses less than 60 days old are increasingly enjoyed across America. It appears many foreign cheeses simply slip under the FDA radar thanks to their labels being written in French or Italian!
Whilst raw milk and raw milk cheese debates rage on, there is no denying that comparing the history and culture of, say France, with America or Australia is not comparing apples to apples. Standardizing laws to suit a global market place won’t happen any time soon. And flavor is a subjective thing, and anyone denying some fantastic US pasteurized cheeses lack flavor are in the minority. But to get permits, enter the US market and keeping your new cheese venture safe, we suggest keeping on the right side of the law- a law perhaps others are happy to ignore at possible cost down the road. Like many issues in America right now the raw milk cheese debate is heating up as a ‘rights’ issue; with more money pouring into the industry the old laws already ignored by many may well be challenged. Any new cheese making venture MUST be up to date with this issue.
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