The Future of Artisan Cheese in the United States

American artisan cheese producers lack sufficient support in the battle of diffusing raw milk cheeses, and promoting quality and biodiversity, two wider concerns closely linked to the use of raw milk.

Years ago, the Presidium for American raw milk cheeses was founded and it has been revived in the last few years. David Remolds of Rogue Creamery had initiated the raw milk movement and started the Presidium in collaboration with Slow Food. It took him three years before he received permission to make raw milk cheese.

In 2003 Gourmet Foods International joined Cheese with the intention of creating an American artisan cheese presence at the event. There’s still long road to go, but Cheese 2017 gave great support by putting American raw milk cheeses in the spotlight.

“Isn’t raw milk like a difficult horse to tame?”

Giuseppe Licitra, professor of Products of Animal Origin at the Univesrity of Catania, Italy: “Yes, raw milk is essentially working with so many organisms but it is also the source of a rich flavor profile. But it’s not only a question of raw milk or no raw milk. There are other aspects such as the use of stainless steel, which then requires the use of selected cultures since it creates such a sterile environment.”

Kat Feete from Meadow Creek Dairy: “It’s true that raw milk is very challenging to work with. Grass-fed and seasonal milk is very challenging, but you just have to take it. If we worked with pasteurized milk then there are other challenges such as working with technical aspects and machinery. You have to work harder with pasteurized milk to market it since they end up being very standard cheeses.”

John Antonelli, President of American Cheese Society: “I believe that we’re at the time that our producers obtain incredible high quality and consistency with raw milk. ACS has an important role to communicate this around the world that these cheesemakers are doing such a stellar job. You can experience different flavors captured through raw milk of different terroirs.”

Andy Hatch from Uplands Cheese Wisconsin: “Price and transportation are big issues. Just the shipping costs are incredibly high for us.”

“What efforts are being made to further the production of artisan cheeses in US?”

Carlos Yescas and Slow Food have have fundamental roles in assisting the growth of the artisans. Carlos Yescas from Oldways Cheese Coalition has been working with Slow Food for long time in the US. By now there’s a second generation of raw milk cheese producers who are really setting the standards. Younger generations have very strong commitment to decide the future of the state of raw milk by outlining the necessary actions. Yescas also organizes the Raw Milk Appreciation Day, promoting raw milk awareness around the world.

American raw milk cheeses are not only the future but also the present because an incredible amount of cheese is being made in the US, making raw milk cheeses such a big market. Due to the food safety act many cheeses coming from outside the US have to comply with so many norms which makes the future unclear. We may be losing cheeses and Raw Milk Appreciation Day aims to tell people that.

“With the new administration, are we going to see a regression for raw milk?”

There’s a wide perception in the US that eating raw milk cheese is the same as drinking raw milk. There’s need to tackle incomplete and inconsistent perceptions.

Andy Hatch: “So much of what we’ve gotten out of the FDA was opaque but the transparency has gotten so much better in the last decades. Although the federal government is always going to be opaque and hard to understand. With the new administration I’m afraid we’re going to see less educated officials.”

John Antonelli: Regulatory advocacy is how we approach the FDA. As American Cheese Society, we aim to have them look at us as a reliable data source. We are collecting data to convince the FDA that artisanal raw milk producers exist and need regulations tailored to their work. One solution is to keep bothering them until they understand that we are a subtantial community that needs their regulations. If we can, as cheesemakers, become the science, the adults in the room, we can develop control over it with our own scientific data. We just have to consistently use their language to overcome transparency. Being at the table allows us to control the situation.”

Nora Weiser, Executive Director at American Cheese Society: “The FDA has not come up with new regulations for raw milk producers. UK did something similar developing a code of good practices. A twenty year process in the UK, they have managed a code of conduct for raw milk cheese producers. We are hoping to be able to do the same with the FDA. We have been educating state officials who want do their job well. I think reinvigorating the Presidium in the US will be a piece of that puzzle. This is not just a battle of raw milk, we are still trying to say that you can use raw milk to make cheese that’s safe to eat. In fact it’s not just about raw milk, it’s about making great cheese. All cheesemakers should work collaboratively to help the industry grow.”

Simran Sethi, a Slow Food advocate and author of Bread, Wine, Chocolate: “You have many allies across the food spectrum. What we need to look at is not only the educational aspect on raw milk but the whole story and the narrative of food industrialization and standardization. The industrialization of food has transformed not only what we view as safe but also the cultural background knowledge we have. We need to re-create the cultural understanding of food products.”

What about the other large theme of the event, naturalness? American Cheese Society definitely supports and aims to produce more activities within that area. “Identifying those cheesemakers is already a reality. Slow Food is such a great organization to focus on these such niche aspects,” said John Antonelli.

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