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Friday, March 5, 2010

You can't eat this cheese

This cheese is made with raw milk. Raw milk, that stuff that comes out of a cow (or a sheep, or a goat). Pure, unadulterated fresh milk, natures finest from happy, well loved animals that roam free in paddocks and do as they please. Cheese made by an artisan producer with the highest level of attention to detail, made with passion and skill (in a clean, temperature controlled environment that abides by strict safety standards). Sounds perfect, and it tastes pretty darned amazing as well.

But you can't eat this cheese.

Bacteria they say, raw cheese is packed with the stuff. Bad for you. Nasty bacteria, causes all sorts of problems. Best just to eat uniform cheese that has been mass-produced – that way everyone will be safe from that nasty bacteria.

Well, here's the thing, cheese is made from bacteria, that's what makes cheese, cheese. Otherwise it would just stay in its milky form. And I'm pretty sure human beings have been drinking their milk raw for a lot longer than we've been able to homogenise and pasteurise it for mass consumption. I might be missing something here, but I've no idea what the problem is. If I want to eat this cheese, it's my choice right? Wrong.

The sale of raw milk and cheese made from raw milk is illegal in Australia – with the exception of France's Roquefort cheese, and a couple of other European Swiss varieties: gruyère, emmenthal and sbrinz - all of which are made using unpasteurised milk. But this is import only, Australian producers can't sell their own interpretations of these, or any other cheese for that matter.

Nick Haddow from Bruny Island Cheese Co. has been trying to get permission to sell his raw milk C2 cheese for over 18 months

Slow Food Australia has been calling for an end to the strict, and often politically motivated, scare campaigns and regulations concerning raw milk cheese for some time now:

"A defence of a food that has for hundreds of years inspired, given pleasure and provided sustenance but is now being insidiously undermined by the sterile hand of global hygiene controls."

If you like, you can add your voice to the Slow Food Australia campaign to enable Australian producers to make cheese from raw milk here.

For the personal consumption of the cheese maker only. 

It would be impossible to fully explore the issues surrounding the consumption of raw milk and raw milk cheeses in these few hundred words, but please, if you are interested, go and find out more. Most of us just don't know what we are missing out on, we don't know what real cheese should taste like, smell like, or feel like. Someone sitting in a fancy office is making this decision for us and that's not okay.


Veronica said...

Signed :-) Very good cause.

Anonymous said...

I can see why, I dont want those grubby fingers & fingernails anywhere near the cheese I'm about to eaty AND the next photo he's practically buried his nose in the bloody thing, hey mate its not a hankie!

Lisa said...

Interesting and rather disheartening. It's tragic when food is viewed merely as sustenance rather than as something also to be enjoyed.

Lisa said...

Also, this is what I meant by proper food blogging. I'm working my way up to this level of writing. :-)

Mark said...

Hello Maggie,

I happened upon the article in the paper yesterday decided to poke around your blog. I was rapt to find you writing about raw milk. I'm managing a dairy farm on the north-west and consume up to three litres of raw milk a day, with no ill effect from bacteria.

No doubt you would have been aware of the milk pricing debacle last year. As a farmer, I was a little befuddled because people thought if they purchased Betta Milk instead of Pura, they'd be doing dairy farmers some sort of favour. Besides being stuck in some sort of moral ambiguity, the parochialism was ill-founded. The problem being that very little of the milk produced in Tasmania is consumed domestically - I think around 5-6 percent. The rest is packed off for export mainly as skim milk powder for Asia. This means, of course, that dairy farmers are subject to volatile global price fluctuations. The result of this is a dairy industry (for some reason lauded for the quality of its milk) geared to producing milk as cheaply as possible. This pushes everything to its limits: stock rates are high so pastures are easily damaged and require enormous inputs from fertiliser, livestock, subsequently teeter on the fringes of animal welfare standards, and farmers are caught milking hundreds and hundreds of cows. It's an ugly industrialisation that seems intractable.

There is a fundamental problem with modern agriculture in Australia, and it is this: we feed the world first, ourselves second. This is a legacy of days producing stuffs for the Empire. Of course, this is the opposite in Europe, and for me at least, the main reason we have very few (comparatively) artisan food producers in Tasmania. If regulations were changed regarding the consumption of raw milk produce (and there is some movement from the ANZFA) on this matter, then incentive for local production is likely to materialise. Farmers could flip the bird to supply companies and value add to the benefit of all, from livestock to consumers.


Barbara said...

I grew up on a farm and we drank raw milk every day with no ill effects. An interesting and helpful comment from Mark. Thank you.

Maggie said...

Hi Mark,

Your comment here is so insightful. I wonder, would you liek to talk further/ I wouldn't mind writing a feature article about this. Perhaps if you might leave me a way to contact you?


Rita II said...

I had some of Nick's C2 cheese recently and it was fantastic! I used to live in Europe where you can, as you commented, get all kinds of produce without interference from the state, and we all survived. Mark's post has also really clarified the Tassie milk situation for me. Keep up the good work!

Milky Bar Kid said...

I love raw milk cheese, it has some amazing charater!
With Mark's comments, it may be a matter of his being used to the product. Drinking three litres of anything, every day, for most of your life would probably make you immune to anything potentially harmful in the product. Someone trying it for the first time may have a different reaction. That, I might add is playing devils advocate. I have signed the petition. I love raw milk and slow food.

Maggie said...

You're spot on Milky Bar Kid, Consume something all your life and you'd be pretty immune. This was passed down from parent to child too.

There is nothing wrong with the milk that comes out of the cow. It's what happens afterwards that is the problem!

Mark said...

I asked some doctors about consuming such a large amount of milk, and they seemed to think that provided I wasn't putting on excessive weight it shouldn't be harmful. Not content with this, I sought a second opinion from Wikipedia. Some studies suggest that excessive consumption (say six or more glasses) can lead to increased dispostion to some forms of cancer. Others suggest that these assertions are difficult to substantiate.

I don't always drink three litres per day, just those moments when I'm actually dairy farmer. I don't recall any specific trouble adjusting to the raw milk after long periods without.

Going back to the Pura Milk v Betta Milk debacle from last year, I was particularly annoyed at Betta's cynicism. Betta unconscionably exploited the parochial nature of Tasmanians in order to exert a competitive financial advantage. Don't get me wrong, I am not defending National Foods - they're all scumbags. But consider this: Fonterra (A New Zealand dairy cooperative - now global player) supplies Betta with all its milk. 65 percent of Tasmanian dairy farmers supply Fonterra. National Foods (Lactos, King Island Dairy) take around 30 percent, with Cadbury and independents accounting for the remainder. Fonterra had been paying the abhorrently low milk price for at least six months longer than National Foods. This situtation arose because National Foods suppliers had locked in two year deal when milk prices were much healthier (Fonterra had one year contracts in place). I was disappointed that the media didn't catch on to Betta's rot. Instead we got that all too familiar rubbish about Japanese conglomerates - a standard practice that just seeks ignition in the ill-found prejudice a lot of Australians exhibit toward Asians.

I'll make the point again, but the problem is the global market, and economic rationalism. It has rendered primary producers with very little in terms of bargaining power. Antithetically, one of the striking failures of economic rationalism is the increased monopolisation of markets. Dairy farmers have no choice where to send their milk; it can go to one of two milk supply companies both of which pay roughly the same. Of course this is the same more broadly speaking, from banks to supermarkets, and telecommunications, and so on.

Instead of many choices (as the pundits that expouse rationalism's virtues tell us) we end up with fewer and fewer choices. Through this paucity of choice we find ourselves enslaved to the whims of corporations. We end up in a state of suspense from where our vulnerabilities are easy pickings for company fat-cats.

It is a downright absurdity that of around several hundred dairy farms in Tasmania those you could walk onto and buy milk, butter, cream, and cheese from probably number in the tens. That is not economic rationalism but bastardism.