National Consumers League

Cheesy distractions


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Amid all the craziness of the last few weeks - the hurricanes that destroyed so much of Puerto Rico and the islands, the earthquake in Mexico City, the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas - I find myself gravitating to anodyne parts of the newspapers I love to read daily. Case in point, the Food Section of the Washington Post

And I happened to come upon a most interesting article on American cheeses - not the orange kind in cellophane wrapped slices, but intensely aged flavorful artisanal cheeses that are now competing with their European counterparts for the first time.

Why is this relevant to NCL? I’m getting there! The article appeared on the front page of the food section with the headline “All American contenders, At an International Cheese Festival, experts deem US-made varieties on par with Old World Stalwarts.” There they were in Bra, Italy with cheese aficionados from across the world touting the qualities of great new American cheeses. But when I looked inside for the jump page, all I could find was a headline that said “Raw milk producers look to make their case to wary American consumers.”  Wait, that wasn’t what I was reading about!

All of a sudden the article morphed into a discussion on the superiority of raw milk cheeses and the FDA’s rules about them, about which I know very little. Well, raw milk is important to NCL because, it’s dangerous to consume: it hasn’t been pasteurized. 

The American Cheese Society’s Nora Weiser was quoted: “ In the United States, we’re still in the phase where we’re trying to prove the safety of raw-milk cheese.”  NIH found that 90 outbreaks attributed to raw milk between 1998 and 2011 had caused 1,1882 illnesses, 230 hospitalizations, and six deaths. Forty-two percent of those were from raw milk cheese. And two people died eating cheese just this past March in New York, according to the article. That’s pretty scary! Ms. Weiser has an uphill battle, it appears. 

I learned that there’s a way to make raw cheeses safe to consume: age them for 60 days, per FDA rules. But then no soft, young raw milk cheeses allowed like those you find in Europe. Andy Hatch of Uplands Cheese in the United States complained that the FDA’s processes are opaque and not based on science. I don’t know if he’s right or not. I do know that for the consumers’ sake, anything made with raw milk should be made safe. Where the FDA is going to land on this is anyone’s guess. That said, this is why I LOVE newspapers, because at least for a few moments, this trip to an international cheese festival and celebration of new American artisanal cheeses - and discussion of raw milk  - took my mind off the depressing news of the week.