What is the big deal with raw milk? We ask our head cheesemaker Ben to explain

  • 3 min read

Ben Ticehurst, head cheesemaker for the Trethowan Brothers.

It's Raw Milk Appreciation day on the 22nd April but for us, Raw milk appreciation day is every day! We love to talk raw milk and cheesemaking, so we interviewed our head cheesemaker Ben, to go into detail about why we love raw milk, and why it makes such great cheese.

What is raw milk?  

Raw milk is exactly what it sounds like, it is milk that is completely untreated, direct from the cows. There is a subtle distinction between raw milk and unpasteurised milk. Unpasteurised milk, which whilst not pasteurised may have under gone the gentler process of being Thermised. 

Is most cheese pasteurised? 

Most cheese produced in the UK is made from pasteurised milk and this is especially true for the more industrial production associated with block cheddar and other super market cheeses. 

What is the difference between raw milk and pasteurised milk? 

Raw milk is completely untreated leaving all the bacteria which naturally occur in the milk whereas pasteurised milk has been heated to 71° C for 15 seconds. This kills off nearly all the bacteria in the milk, and whilst this kills any pathogenic bacteria it also removes most of the good bacteria. The process also leaves some of the spoilage bacteria too.

What does pasteurising do to the flavour of a cheese?

Cheese made from raw milk not only derives its flavour from the bacteria of the starter culture but also from the naturally occurring bacteria found in the milk - this means that there is a much greater depth of flavour in raw milk cheese due to the greater variety of bacteria that contribute to the flavour of the cheese. Cheese made from Pasteurised milk has to rely solely on the bacteria of the starter culture for its flavour. Whilst this can produce great tasting cheese the flavour is much narrower and has a much shorter finish compared to raw milk cheese.

What is natural flora? 

Another way of saying the naturally occurring microbes i.e. bacteria  

Raw milk in cheese. The Trethowan Brothers.

What benefits are there to using milk from your own farm/site? 

There are the obvious logistical advantages - no transportation to deal with. The real advantage from a cheese making perspective is the fact that you have a single source of milk with all the milk coming from one herd of cattle. Whilst there will be some seasonal variation in milk profiles you are spared the huge fluctuations that would occur if having to switch between different herds as the source of milk. This could be differences in flavour deriving from the different feed fed to the cows, differences in the milks composition e.g.  how creamy and how much protein it contains, as well as what types and the level of bacteria present.

Why seek out raw milk?

You have to think of it like “what unique characteristics are you looking for in the milk?” Any one making the extra effort to produce a raw milk cheese is going to be the sort of person who does things properly even when it is not necessarily the easiest option. And while this doesn’t guarantee great cheese, its helps. There is also the fact that a raw milk cheese will generally have a better depth of flavour. There are some great pasteurised and theorised cheeses out there but the real classics are made from raw milk. 

Can you think of any examples of decisions made in the pastures that lead to direct flavour impact in the vat? 

What plant are growing in the fields along with the grass can influence the flavour of the milk and which in tern has an effect on the flavour of the cheese. Wild garlic is one to avoid!

What factors influence milk flavour? 

What the cows are eating, the composition of the milk i.e. how much butter fat, how much protein, the number and type of bacteria in the milk.

Who sells raw milk? 

Raw milk can only be sold directly by the farmer producing it. 

Are raw milk cheeses safe?  

Properly made raw milk cheese is safe; the processes involved in cheese making create conditions where any harmful bacteria are out competed by the good bacteria, leaving cheese that is tasty and safe to eat. There are also more regulations around the production of raw milk cheese. Here at the dairy we operate what is known as positive release - all batches of cheese are tested to confirm the absence of any pathogenic bacteria before they are sold.

To find out more about our Award-Winning raw milk, Organic cheeses, visit our website. And to buy online direct visit our shop.