Pasteurised or Unpasteurised?
We stock all manner of cheeses, hard, soft, blue, etc. and these cheeses are all made with either pasteurised or unpasteurised milk. In some cases this is the cheesemakers choice, in others it is restricted by PDO regulations, for example, Stilton has to be made with pasteurised milk and conversely Comté has to be made using unpasteurised milk.
Regardless of the reasoning behind pasteurisation or not, there are two main questions that come up:
Is cheese made with unpasteurised milk better?
Is pasteurised milk safer?
We're going to start with the safety question first. Is pasteurised milk safer? To answer this question properly, we need to look at the perceived risks and safety concerns around using unpasteurised milk for making cheese.
In making cheese, any dairy, farm, cheesemaking room will have many kinds of bacteria present, most of them good, but there are a few that are not. The few bad bacteria that can contaminate milk or cheese are Escherichia coli (E-coli), Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureas, and Listeria monocytogenes. There are ways to keep these under control though and minimise any risk to the cheese. Some of these ways are a natural part of the cheesemaking process, for example, salt dehydrates and most bacteria require moisture to thrive, and others are achieved by following appropriate procedures during handling the milk, the cheesemaking, maturing the cheese, packaging and shipping.
So what is pasteurisation? Pasteurisation involves heating the milk to 71.7℃ for a minumum of 15 seconds and maximum of 25 seconds. This is intended to kill the 4 main pathogens mentioned above, however it also kills just about everything else, some of which are very important in cheesemaking as they are a type of natural defence inherent in the milk. It also has the potential to allow complacency to creep into safe milk handling practices and increase contamination risks, although it has to be stressed that all the cheesemakers we know and work with would never let complacency creep into their processes and work to a high and safe standard every time.
We believe that with safe, controlled handling of milk and then cheese, whether using pasteurised or unpasteurised milk, will produce cheese that is safe to eat and there are no significantly greater risks either way.
This brings us on to the second question and whether cheese made with unpasteurised milk tastes better. This is an equally challenging question to answer.
As pasteurisation kills all the bacteria, both good and bad, a lot of the friendly cultures essential for making great cheese are destroyed and therefore need to be reintroduced back into the milk after pasteurisation. In killing off the indigenous microflora, the local character of the milk is damaged and therefore not passed onto the cheese. This is potentially the main drawback of using pasteurised milk. However, as we said before, it's not as simple as saying that cheese made using unpasteurised milk is better, we believe that unpasteurised milk is one of a number of factors leading to great cheese, and all being equal unpasteurised milk has the potential to make a better cheese. There are many absolutely fantastic cheeses made with pasteurised milk and their quality is down to a number of factors with the skill of the cheesemaker being top of that list.
So, to sum up we at The East London Cheese Board believe that cheese made using pasteurised or unpasteurised milk is equally safe to eat and that cheese made with unpasteurised milk has the potential to taste better but is just one factor that goes towards the quality of the cheese.
Ultimately we would leave you to make your own decisions on the safety aspects of eating unpasteurised cheese, especially during pregnancy. We do have another article asking if cheese is safe to eat while pregnant.