CHEESE-LOVERS took heart when Food Standards Australia New Zealand agreed to take a second look at if it would allow cheese to be made with raw milk in Australia. The resulting report released recently, however, has brought them no cheer.
After examining all the options, FSANZ virtually has recommended leaving things as they are.
Cheesemakers will be able to apply to make hard cheeses that are cooked and in which the process itself eliminates any pathogens. This is the sort of cheese Nick Haddow’s Bruny Island Cheese Company has had a licence to make with raw (unpasteurised) milk since last December. Some of the company’s C2 cheese is made with raw milk.
Imported hard grating cheeses, such as grana padano and Parmigiano reggiano, and Swiss cheeses emmental and gruyere made with raw milk already are allowed to be imported and cheesemakers here could apply to make cheeses of similar style under the FSANZ proposal.
Roquefort, the famous blue cheese of France, has been allowed to be imported since 2005, but no cheesemaker is allowed to try to approximate it here. No one here could make a true roquefort, as, by definition, it is made from unpasteurised ewe milk from only the Lacaune breed of sheep that live within a few hundred kilometres of the Roquefort-sur-Soulzon limestone caves where the cheese is matured.
Geography and breeds aside, FSANZ is not in favour of making soft blue cheese from unpasteurised ewe or any other, milk because roquefort is heated to only 30C and Australian regulations say raw milk curd must be heated to 48C. Nevertheless, FSANZ noted before it approved imports of roquefort it had “not been implicated in any reported outbreaks of food-borne illness, (and) that it can be produced to an equivalent level of safety as cheese made from heat-treated milk”.
The latest FSANZ report, however, does not credit the Australian dairy industry with being able to produce a soft raw-milk cheese as safe as the imported roquefort.
To pasteurise milk it is heated to 72C, which kills 99 per cent of potential pathogens but also burns off flavours and the “terroir” of the milk the effects of the climate, pasture and the breed of animal chewing on it. Cheese made with raw milk is widely credited with better flavour and complexity than the same style made with pasteurised milk.
The international movement, Slow Food, has added Tasmanian leatherwood honey and the Wessex saddleback pig as grown in Australia to its Ark of Taste, which aims to preserve threatened species and artisan products. Slow Food will not even entertain the idea of adding a cheese made with pasteurised milk to the ark.
FSANZ says it received 228 submissions from the public on the issue 198 from consumers unanimously wanting access to raw-milk products.
Most of the submissions from government and industry, however, were in favour of either maintaining the status quo or allowing only the “hard” cheeses.
FSANZ will conduct another review of where the borderline should be between the next two categories of products, the softer cheeses and raw drinking milk at the far extreme.
The raw-milk cheese ban is not that old. Jon Healey’s Pyengana Cheddar was made with raw milk until 1993, when the ban was brought in.
The US allows cheese made with raw milk. Even NZ has stepped aside from FSANZ and allows some cheeses to be made with raw milk. Because particular attention must be paid to the quality of the milk when cheese is made with raw milk, it is a product that suits small artisan makers, who get all their milk from the one source often their own farm.
It does not suit cheesemakers who get milk in bulk from several farms and mix it up.
Cheese distributor and host of Cheese Slices Will Studd is urging cheese-lovers to respond to the report by letting FSANZ know what they want at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or by writing to their MP before October 14.