April 20, 1862 is one of those dates that marks a turning point in the history of Western society.
It was on that day that Louis Pasteur and his assistant Claude Bernard conducted a series of public experiments to demonstrate the effectiveness of heat treatment in making foodstuffs safe for consumption, which was considered necessary due to the widely-held belief in the theory of the spontaneous generation of pathogenic germs. The process was named “pasteurization” in honor of the French scientist and, oddly enough, its first practical applications involved wine, vinegar and beer. Pasteur never performed experiments on milk. It was only in 1886 that a German chemist, Franz von Soxhlet, began the practice we most associate pasteurization with, to ensure healthier milk for children.
Considering the precarious health and sanitary conditions of the period, the results caused an immediate sensation, giving rise to the advent of the milk and dairy industry. It was now possible to buy milk over long distances and conserve it for longer periods of time. By knocking down these barriers, a form of dairy production came into being that broke the breeding-milking-cheesemaking chain that had been in existence for thousands of years.
Until 1886 the milk used to make cheese was either that from the animals raised by cheesemakers themselves or, occasionally, that from neighboring farms, and in either case it had to be processed very quickly. With pasteurization, dairies were able to process very large quantities of milk, which they could source from much further away.
In a short space of time, dairy breeding and cheesemaking became a marginal, almost folksy activity.
Today, producing cheese with raw milk is still widespread among artisan, farmhouse cheesemakers. If we analyze the state of European PDOs, we realize that only 8% of production protocols actually require pasteurization. Though, there is also a ‘black hole’: the 53% of the PDOs which do not contain specific indications on raw or pasteurized milk, and the producers are free to do as they please.
The European Union has developed a very open legislation that allows the use of non-pasteurized milk, but not all legislation has properly acknowledged the guidelines. What is still missing is a widespread culture that recognizes the value of raw milk as a determining factor in producing quality and safeguarding the biodiversity of dairy.
But can we talk about quality, origin and respect for tradition without contemplating raw milk? And how do selected cultures affect the sensory profile of cheeses?
Raw Milk: Milk that has not undergone any heat treatment. It is characterized by the preservation of the bacterial flora, that contributes to the cheese’s sensory profile.
Pasteurization: Heat treatment on raw milk, for at least 15 seconds at not less than 71.7°C, which eliminates bacteria and potential pathogens, ensuring the wholesomeness of milk by improving shelf life.
Thermization: Thermic treatment done on raw milk, at temperatures lower than pasteurization, in order to reduce the natural bacterial flora.