Slow Food has been fighting for the rights of consumers to buy raw milk and the rights of cheesemakers to make cheese from it for almost two decades, and its biennial event, Cheese, has long been a forum for publicizing the issue. This year, Cheese saw the launch of Slow Food’s new campaign website for raw milk, bringing together actions and projects worldwide and providing useful information for the public.
An international panel of cheesemakers, experts and cheesemongers who have been working tirelessly to promote raw milk for many years came together at Cheese to launch the new online-resource, sharing their respective experiences and fears and hopes for the future.
Australian cheese expert Will Studd asked the audience to, “imagine a world without Parmigiano Reggiano… When your country doesn’t allow this kind of cheese, it’s time to fight.” Despite a public campaign since 1996, Studd said the Australian government hasn’t budged on the ban on the production and sale of all raw-milk cheese and recently announced that they are recommending no major change to the current situation; the sale of raw milk would become a criminal offense.
Cheesemaker Mateo Kehler, from the American Raw Milk Cheeses Presidium, explained that while current laws allow cheeses to be made from raw milk if they are aged for at least 60 days, the situation may soon change following a risk assessment by the Food and Drug Administration. Acknowledging that it would take a lot of public pressure to hold on to the right to make raw-milk cheeses, Kehler was quite optimistic: “There’s a revolution happening outside the control of the government. People are voting with their forks and making choices about how they want to feed themselves and their families…. If it’s possible to sell sushi and oysters, it should be possible to sell safe raw milk.”
In Ireland, Slow Food is campaigning to stop new laws banning the sale of raw milk. Campaign coordinator Elisabeth Ryan said that while around 100,000 people consume raw milk regularly and there have only been two cases of illness from raw milk in last ten years, the government is under pressure from the Irish food safety agency to present an international image of Ireland as a “safe” food country. “This ‘sterilization’ of food trumps quality,” she said. “We need to find a way to convince the government that with regulations and best practices we can minimize the risks relating to raw milk.”
From the Netherlands, Marjolein Kooistra, coordinator of the Aged Artisanal Gouda Presidium, described a situation where the sale of raw milk was not a big legal issue, but instead raw-milk cheesemakers faced the problem of cheeses made with thermized milk (submitted to a process similar to pasteurization but that uses lower temperatures) being sold as raw milk.
Piero Sardo, president of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, closed the discussion with a reminder that quality cheeses and diversity in dairy production can only be upheld through consumer and producer action. “We had 10,000 years of raw-milk cheese before Pasteur, and we’re still here,” he said. “They can’t force us to eat sterile food, but nobody is going to defend us. We have to do it ourselves, by choosing, protesting, organizing events, campaigning, refusing to eat plastic cheeses.”
The website is currently available in Italian and English and will soon be translated into five more languages. The site discusses the benefits and concerns with raw milk, and tells the stories of Slow Food’s campaign and “Raw Milk Heroes” in various countries, highlighting the incredible work of cheesemakers, shepherds and agers.