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The Front Lines of the U.S. Cheese Revolution

We recognize the cheese excitement occurring right here within our shores. While there are marvelous developments occurring elsewhere, what is happening with cheese here in the States is especially dramatic. Most of these developments are positive: a tripling of per capita consumption since 1970 (with a continuing rise), a growing connoisseurship, and remarkable improvements in cheese quality. All this bodes well, though there are some major challenges yet to be overcome.

The slowly growing recognition that dairy products are actually beneficial to health along with accurate information replacing prejudice about cheese’s supposed health risks is, I believe, a major contributor to this movement. At the same time, this recognition of dairy-sourced nutritive values has led to increased standardization and blind acceptance that all dairy products can offer these benefits in abundance.

What has passed as milk in this country is a shadow of its former self. Organic or not, that milk is usually depleted of its beneficial fats, is invariably homogenized (an energy-wasting process that denatures fats, making them more susceptible to attack and breakdown by enzymes, all with the goal of making the resulting milk “nice”). Even worse is what happens to the other nutrients: the proteins that are denatured through excessive heat treatment via ultra-pasteurization, the loss of fat-soluble vitamins (up to 80% of vitamins A & D) by the par-boiling of the milk, and the significant depletion of B vitamins and minerals. Is this really what we should be recommending to health-conscious consumers? A low-fat, homogenized, ultra-pasteurized, nutritionally depleted white liquid with little flavor and virtually no aroma?

Fortunately we have some outstanding artisan cheeses available in America, and more and more of them crafted from uncompromised milk. All the same, we should not be glib when we promote raw milk products. After all, bacteria recognize nourishing foods when they see it far better than we do as a species. Here, it is worth noting that cheese enjoys a stellar track record for food safety. As a food category, there are far fewer food-borne illnesses caused by cheese than can be attributed to other food groups, fruits and vegetables included.

I see farmland across this country that could be used for artisan dairying, quite a lot of it. With a growing hungrier planet we have an excellent opportunity before us to grow the artisan cheese industry here in the U.S. Many have already seized this opportunity with wonderful results. The states that recognize cheese is a value-added commodity also recognize cheese as a commodity that adds revenues to municipal coffers and benefits local economies by creating jobs.

Most people that go into cheese making go into the field (literally) to make a living, while producing what can be the world’s greatest food – cheese. I recommend that we choose a variety of cheeses, and that we consume as much as we can, not only American-made cheeses but also some of the old-world types that are barely hanging on.

Max McCalman

Spread the curd!
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