Let’s start by dispelling some fake news: The widely held beliefs that cheeses made with raw milk and those high in fat are bad for you are wrong. There may be some cheeses that are bad for your health, but in the midst of all the misinformation that can be found online and in supermarkets, it’s hard to make a judgment these days.
“The consumer orients the market and production with his or her choices and, growing aware of these processes, he or she assumes a new role.” (Good, Clean and Fair: the Slow Food Manifesto for Quality)
As consumers, each of us can influence the market. As we become more aware, we make better choices. For uninformed consumers, the black-and-white health claims put forward by the mainstream media channels, using clickbait titles and referencing studies carried out with narrow samples—maybe even on roundworms rather than humans—can be quite confusing.
A few decades ago, fatty cheese and butter were supposed to cause heart disease and obesity; now, it seems, “science” has changed its mind. We now know that in the 1960s the sugar industry paid scientists to demonize fat. What if the corruption is still going on, and in another 20 years new “facts” will come to light? How can we trust the purchasing choices we are making, when we are constantly exposed to contradicting opinions?
Don’t wait for a few scientists or journalists to tell you what is good for you. Find out for yourself. Read labels, and know what they mean. Research cheese brands online, and learn what influence the ingredients and the nutrition breakdown found on the label have on your system: Some cheeses will be high in calcium, while others will have a higher level of casein (the primary cheese protein). If you have a low-calcium diet, you might want to look for cheeses higher in it, or vice versa.
Track the product down yourself, and only buy it if it reflects a method of food production you want to support. Read more on what Slow Food has to say about food labels.
Trust your own taste buds, but train them first. Raw-milk cheeses have a more intense and varied flavor, reflecting the terroir of the production region. Keep tasting and comparing cheeses with different origins. It might seem simple, but this will help train your taste buds to be able to choose good, clean and fair cheeses.
The more familiar you are with the flavor and aromas of a raw-milk cheese that is natural and good, the less you will want to purchase mass-produced, standard cheeses. Your own senses will be the expert, orienting you towards products that are good for you and the environment.
Get in touch with the people responsible for what you are eating. Reach out to them online, call them or even visit the production site if they are in your area. Small-scale cheesemakers will appreciate your interest and guide you through their production process. They are knowledgeable and experienced professionals whose voices are rarely heard in the media.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: The cheese producers who work with native, endangered animal breeds or practice traditional methods will generally produce good, clean and fair cheeses. Presidia producers or cheesemakers who farm Ark of Taste animal breeds work in uncontaminated areas rich in biodiversity where natural, beneficial microbiota is transferred to their cheese. Consuming their cheeses will therefore help strengthen your immune system by introducing new and beneficial microbiota into your system.
In addition, purchasing rare products is a good way to support local economies. You can look for food-buying groups in your area, or seek out online cheese shops dedicated to artisan producers.
These are simple tips. They might take a little time to put into practice, but in the long run you will benefit! If you want to know more about what we mean by “good,” take a look at “Good, Clean and Fair: the Slow Food Manifesto for Quality.”