Law For Food: The law affects what you eat. What you buy to eat affects the law.


Raw Milk Cheese — In My Kitchen!
24 June 2008, 12:41 pm
Filed under: Cheese, Raw Milk, Recipe

Not to gloat or brag or anything, but I am staying the summer in a jurisdiction where it is legal to sell raw milk. I have today turned a gallon of locally-produced raw milk into a few balls of mozzarella and about a third of a pound of ricotta. They are certainly not the best cheeses I’ve ever had, but they were a lot of fun to make, and I am kind of proud of them.

I highly recommend Dr. Fankhauser’s Cheese Page for detailed, step-by-step information. Dr. Fankhauser has recipes (with photos) for all sorts of soft and semi-soft cheeses, as well as for things like homemade rennet. (I’m eager to make his Limoncello recipe, too.) From my background as a cheesemonger I was not lacking for theory, but this process has reminded me that there is a great deal of daylight between theory and practice.

I have typed up a few notes in case anyone else wants to try this. It’s a great deal of fun and totally worthwhile. I pasteurized the starter base — last night I added active yogurt to a few cups of raw milk to keep as future starters, and I pasteurized that milk because I wanted to be sure that it had nothing but the yogurt culture in it. I did this more for consistency of product than for safety, and I do not believe it will affect the ultimate flavor as very little starter goes into each batch of cheese (2 oz. starter per gallon of raw milk.) After a while, I may make a new starter from raw milk.

I was surprised by how acid the starter was this morning, and a little worried that I was going to have acid cheese, but however it happened, the cheese is mild and soft-tasting, with a little bit of that milky sweetness that you want from cow’s-milk mozzarella.

Invest in a good thermometer before you get started. A thermometer is the single object you will most interact with while making cheese. It should clearly show the temperatures without you having to guess between them. I made do with a candy thermometer which broke the temp into five-degree intervals so I was doing a lot of guessing. It turned out alright, but the anxiety isn’t worth it. You really only need to see the temps between about 60f and 200f, so a candy thermometer or a roast thermometer aren’t going to be great for this. Also, the thermometer should clip to the side of the pot so you don’t have to keep sticking it in, taking it out, washing it, forgetting where you set it to dry, &c.

When you make ricotta, you will smell the same flavor that you can taste on, for instance, Cheetos. That doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong: processed cheese products such as Cheetos have dessicated whey in them. I gave my whey to a local pig farmer because I’m angling for some guanciale or lardo this fall.

Working clean: I used quat sanitizer that I got from a restaurant supply store as a final rinse on all my utensils and so on. You can also use distilled vinegar if you rinse everything off with really hot water (you don’t want the vinegar to contaminate the cheese.) I think it’s important to be as safe as possible when making raw-milk cheese at home because this is how raw-milk cheese has gotten a bad name. This means using fresh milk from grass-fed cows, using clean containers and utensils, and being ever-mindful of cross-contamination. Most raw-milk disease outbreaks have been traced back to so-called “bathtub cheeses” made under unsanitary conditions. Don’t take any risks. Don’t make it harder for the rest of us.

Be careful with pasteurized milk, though, too. All pasteurization means is that many of the bacteria were cooked at the time of pasteurization. It doesn’t mean they can’t come back, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t cross-contaminate after pasteurization.

But do make the cheese. Support a local dairy. Have something to brag about when tomatoes come in. It really is a lot of fun.



A Bright Side

Is American Cheese the new American Wine? Is the faltering dollar good for the domestic artisanal food industry — or at least those parts of it which don’t rely on imports?

What has been good for wine has been good for cheese. The rising wealth and strong dollar of the 1990s sent Americans flocking to Europe, returning with a new understanding and appreci­ation of continental eating. Food has emerged as hip entertainment, with its own vibrant press, TVnetworks, and rock-star chefs. Movies about food and wine have found large, sophisticated audi­ences (“Eat, Drink, Man, Woman,” “Sideways,” “Big Night,” “Like Water for Chocolate,” “Ratatouille”). Increased concern for health and a growing sus­picion of conventional agriculture, spurred by crises like mad cow, bird flu, and tainted spin­ach, have focused the nation on small-scale local farming and the sustainability and traceability of our food supply. Meanwhile, Whole Foods Market has planted 263 stores around the country (many through acquisitions of regional chains) since the first opened in 1980. And who could have pre­dicted the French Paradox—the notion, according to a bestseller about the eating habits of France, that you can eat plenty of fat and stay slim? Or Dr. Atkins urging eager dieters to eat pork and but­terfat? More recently, the flaccid dollar and robust euro have made American wines and cheeses seem veritable bargains.

I have for a while maintained that there is more excitement and energy in the U.S. artisanal cheese industry than there is in European cheese. In part, this is surely due to our having farther to go: try speaking, reading, or typing the words “American cheese” without picturing something gummy, preternaturally orange, oversalted and individually wrapped.

However, I also suspect that european cheesemakers and regulators have done the industry a disservice in the long term due to the AOC/PDO/DOP/DOC system of trademark regulation. (Each of these terms, in a different language, stands for “Controlled Name of Origin” and I shall refer to them all under the term “DOP” for simplicity’s sake.) The DOP system sets characteristics that must be met if a product is to be referred to under a traditional name; i.e., if you want to call your blue cheese Stilton you have to use milk from these sorts of cows, and make it into wheels this big and age them for this long and so on. In a number of cases, qualification is tied to a region: you can’t call your blue cheese Rocquefort, for instance, unless you have made it from sheep’s milk and then aged it in caves in the department Aveyron, where they will be exposed to the airborne, naturally-occurring penicilium rocqueforti that lives there. This system allows for the same sort of protection that individual firms get through trademark law, but enables the protection to be shared by every firm that makes a product meeting the qualification.

However, there are times and occasions in which the DOP system can backfire. Because the definitions are backed by law, it can be difficult to adapt them to new circumstances. Last year, Newcastle Brewing Company ran into this problem. Newcastle had successfully petitioned for the creation of a DOP defining “Newcastle Brown Ale” as ale that was, inter alia produced in the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. When the brewco decided to move its operations across the river to Gateshead, it was required to petition again to expand the legal defintion of “Newcastle Brown Ale” so that ale produced in its new facilities could be marketed under the same label.

As another example: the DOP for Stilton was written some years ago and requires that “Stilton” be made with pasteurized milk, despite the fact that pasturized Stilton is a historical latecomer, and that the cheese had been made with raw milk for centuries prior to industrial cheese production. When Joe Schneider and Randolph Hodgson revived the traditional stilton recipe, they were prohibited by law from calling the product “Stilton” and instead have had to market it under the name “Stichelton”, which is the Middle English name for the city of Stilton.

DOP protection has done some good in protecting quality standards for traditional food products, and I certainly do not oppose its use. However it seems to me that, absent DOP protection, artisanal cheesemakers in the U.S. have more opportunities to innovate in their cheesemaking techniques which are driving quality and variety in American artisanal cheesemaking. I have little doubt that if the DOP system were introduced into the U.S., it would in short order be co-opted by industrial producers, and thereby used to constrain this innovation, and I have some fears that European cheesemaking, which enjoys DOP protection, doesn’t have the same opportunities to innovate.



Probiotics, from the Dept. of Breaking Stuff, and then (Maybe) Fixing it.

From the Dairy Reporter, a story on probiotic dairy products intended to replenish the sorts of gastrointestinal flora that we used to get from food. Money quote:

[Walker] said that measures intended to improve public health, such as food pasteurisation and sterilisation and use of antibiotics means that there is a decreased exposure to micoorganisms – leading to a gap in colonisation and weaker defences against disease.

First of all, while this research doesn’t surprise me, I am a bit bothered by the fact that Nestlé is profiting off of mandatory pasturization and sterilization of food.

The sequence of events seems to go like this: unpasteurized foods contain a great deal of bacteria, most of which is harmless. Exposure to these bacteria would promote the immune system. (Note: I don’t have a scientific background, but my understanding is that these bacteria compete for resources with harmful bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, which means that harmful bacteria wind up fighting a two-front war against both the immune system and these other bacteria. This means that the immune system doesn’t get overwhelmed by harmful bacteria. Any biologists care to comment?)

As it is now, a great many foods are pasturized or sterilized, either by regulation or voluntarily, and do not expose the consumer to these harmless bacteria. Which means that consumers’ immune systems get weaker. Thank god there’s Nestlé to put back in the stuff that was in the food to begin with.

I am reminded of something that Ari used to talk about when I worked at Zingerman’s. He was presenting on raw milk cheeses and he said that pasteurization was a bad idea is because it enables producers to lower their production standards, because they know that any bacteria that get into the milk will be cooked when they pasturize it. Pasturization destroys accountability because the dairy co-op or factory cheesemaker doesn’t know and doesn’t care whose milk might have been dirty: they can put it all into the same big vat and heat it up and it doesn’t matter.

Only, turns out it might matter.



Raw Milk and Bathtubs
30 October 2007, 4:40 pm
Filed under: Cheese, Food Safety, Inspections, Raw Milk, Regulation

Serious Eats has a story about a California couple who were recently busted by state food safety authorities for making soft cheese in their bathtub and selling it on the street. The cheeses they were making were Mexican recipe soft cheeses such as queso fresco and queso oaxaca.

This is interesting to me because the anti-raw-milk authorities often justify the ban on raw-milk cheese by referring to outbreaks of listeria and e. coli found in queso fresco. Serious Eats notes that “bathtub cheesemaking” is a common practice in Latin American communities.

Which makes one wonder whether the outbreaks have more to do with the sanitation practices of the cheesemaker than with the intrinsic “dangers” of raw milk.



Raw Milk May Be Safer

Very interesting: this statement by Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures. The topic is raw milk and the minimal public health risks it poses to consumers. Money quote:

Dr. Caterina Berge, DVM and PhD candidate at UC Davis, tested our milk cows’ fresh manure and did not find any human pathogens. That’s right. . . no Salmonella. She was able to show that when antibiotics are not ever used on the herd (as stipulated in the organic standards) and when cows are not stressed (grass-fed and kept healthy) they simply do not slough off pathogens in their manure. The data collected at Organic Pastures was quite different from that found at other dairies. The typical conventional milk tank had either salmonella or E. coli O157:H7 detected about 30 percent of the time. In comparison, Organic Pastures has never had one pathogen—ever.

To study this issue further, Organic Pastures contracted with BSK labs in Fresno to perform multiple challenge and recovery tests on our raw milk and raw colostrum. When 7 logs (10 million counts) of pathogens were added to one-milliliter samples of organic raw milk they would not grow. In fact they died off. The salmonella was so badly out-competed that it could not be found less than 24 hours later. The listeria drop was less dramatic and was similiar to the E. Coli O157:H7 samples that were studied, but they also did not grow and declined substantially over time.

I am looking for these studies now. I haven’t really worked on raw milk on this website in a while as I am exploring the myriad of legal issues that surround the food industry. It seems that everywhere I look there another area of law or policy is involved in food production (e.g., labeling and consumer protection; product liability; labor and immigration; energy policy) and it’s difficult to narrow down my focus. I had thought that food law would be kind of a niche but I am surprised by its breadth.

(Link via the very informative comments following Meg’s post on eating while pregnant.)



Living Foods
16 July 2007, 2:05 pm
Filed under: Cheese, Fringe Foods

Not law-related, but my grandfather can remember his parents eating this cheese:

Marcone is one of the world’s leading experts on foods that make most people go yuck! He recently wrote a book on the subject. One thing that really gets his glands salivating is casu frazigu cheese, which is packed with so many live maggots that it’s not only disgusting, the Italian government outlawed it.

“The rotten cheese has millions of live maggots in it, and it’s very highly prized all through Italy,” Marcone said. “It sells under the counter for about $100 a pound. As you’re carrying your bag with the cheese in it, you can actually hear the maggots hitting the side of the bag.