We Can’t Have Cheese Without Milk

17 Jul 2015

All news about food, even mildly alarming news regarding the healthiness of products, unleashes a widespread and tumultuous reaction. So, let’s clearly state the facts about powdered milk: the use of this technological milk derivative doesn’t carry any risk. Many of us will have been unknowingly consuming powdered milk for years. Moreover, the food industry, for the most part, uses powdered milk in everyday products such as chocolate, ice cream, biscuits and hot dogs. So why launch a campaign against the use of powdered milk in cheese?


This isn’t just a question of technology, as so many newspapers are reporting, explaining with numerous specific details the benefits of adding powdered milk to stabilize the milk and raise protein levels. We are facing a cultural and political question of extreme importance.


Cheese isn’t a product to be stabilized; it is part of our civilization that dates back to the origins of domestication 10,000 years ago. It is threaded through the history of the world and, in particular, of Europe. Milk is the reason we have cheese, not just one of the ingredients. For this reason it is fundamental to safeguard its biodiversity, its quality and its association to our local cultures. The addition of powdered milk to cheese is an extreme deterioration of the process of industrialization and doesn’t make any sense, unless for profit.


In today’s Italy, this doesn’t happen thanks to a 1974 law that prohibits the use of powdered milk in all cheeses. Today however, Europe – urged by some Italian manufacturing companies – would like to revoke this law, as it obstructs the free circulation of goods, allowing other countries to produce at lower costs. These industries are requesting a law to put them on a par with companies from other countries, but if this were to happen, they would be on a par to do what? To continue to contribute to the liberal decline in quality?


Some argue that powdered milk produced in Argentina or in New Zealand is of higher quality than Italian milk. But do you realize what this technological process involves? The milk is sterilized or pasteurized, cooked at variable temperatures from between 120 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the process, shot inside small nozzles, and dehydrated: can this milk substitute really be comparable to fresh milk?


So why this uprising in favor of protecting powdered milk? Because one kilo of powdered milk costs around two euros, and with this amount it’s possible to produce ten liters of liquid milk, while if it were bought from a farmer it would cost 3.60 euros. In addition, loading sacks of powdered milk onto a lorry and then storing it (sometimes for up to a month) is vastly more convenient and cheaper than relying on travelling tankers, the use of fridges, pasteurization and the use of tanks for liquid milk. It’s all here, plain to see: 1.60 saved on milk, lower logistic costs and greater convenience.


The D.O.P. and I.G.P. status of products, (Italian quality assurance labels) are not at risk, many keep stressing. However these appellations only refer to about 40 cheeses (and be careful, because the practices can change). So what about the other 400? Will it be a free-for-all? No, we can’t let this happen. D.O.P and I.G.P. are worth about 40% of the total Italian cheesemaking market (1,300,000 tons), but the other 60% is vulnerable.


To this, another scandalous question is added; one that Slow Food has been denouncing for years: the ridiculous legal labeling requirements for cheese. Powdered milk, therefore, would enter into Italian cheeses without any indication on the label, as is already the case in the rest of Europe. The consumer should be protected with clear and legible labels, with products of quality, with transparency and honesty; not suffer from the pursuit of low prices and highest profits.


In Italy there are 2,000 cheese producers. In 60% of cases these are small- and very small-scale producers. What will be their fate if the consumer isn’t able to understand the difference between a technological product and an artisanal or traditional one? That is easy to predict. 


Piero Sardo – President of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity

[email protected]


Sign the petition here: http://chn.ge/1M1uRVA


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