The holy grail of cheese is no longer banned in Australia, as lovers and makers of the dairy product rejoice. Changes made by Food Standards Australia have eased restrictions on the production, sale, and importation of raw-milk cheese, which is made without undergoing the pasteurisation process.
The changes come just in time for International Raw-Milk Cheese Appreciation Day (yes that's a real thing), which falls on April 18. Cheese specialist Will Studd told MUNCHIES this new form of the product is an entirely original experience. "It's like watching colour TV after years of watching black and white," he said. "Raw-milk cheese is far more complex and is a true reflection of origin."
Raw milk has created a surprisingly heated and tense debate among dairy and health experts. Cheese connoisseurs argue the pasteurisation process, where milk is heated in order to kill off potentially dangerous bacteria, can ruin the nuances of a cheese. But health experts favour the method, as it's an easy and simple way to remove harmful bacteria—which has caused a number of foodborne illness outbreaks in the past.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) told MUNCHIES that the changes were made after long consultations and risk assessments. "The changes create feasible safety systems for raw milk products that preserve the integrity of the products while maintaining an acceptable level of public health and safety," a spokesperson said.
It's an exciting time for cheese-lovers and -makers across the country, Studd added. "It's a game-changer. I've been working on it for probably over 20 years now, so for me it's a really big deal."
Previous laws banned most types of raw-milk cheese in Australia, except for hard or very hard-cooked curd cheeses. The new rules include "additional control measures" where producers will have to prove that harmful bacteria isn't in their cheese. "You can make a raw-milk cheese now but you need to be very carefully with the milk you use," explained associate professor Tom Ross of the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture. "If you're using pasteurised milk, the process is probably going to be a lot more forgiving. If you start with raw milk, you need to start doing a lot of extra things."
FSANZA ensured the new restrictions ensure all raw-milk cheese sold in Australia will be as safe as possible. "Consumers can choose not to consume raw milk products. However, if they do wish to consume raw milk cheeses, regulatory safeguards—which require dairy producers to demonstrate to enforcement agencies that they are being produced safely—are in place."
Cheese expert Denise Riches from Hindmarsh Valley Dairy said she was very happy Australians can now truly experience cheese in this form. "It's a big win, and it's probably as much of a win as we're going to get."
After years of bad press in Australia, you could be forgiven for feeling a bit apprehensive about trying the bad boy of the cheese world. But law changes for raw-milk cheese come with some pretty strict restrictions to ensure all your delicious cheese won't kill you. The new rules also relax the restrictions on importing cheese from around the world. The state governments will now be responsible for making sure cheesemakers are following the new rules.
Riches acknowledged the risks associated with this delicacy, but said it's no worse than just your plain old cheese. "The pathogens are very real, and the pathogens are very dangerous," she explained. "If milk is wrong, and the process is wrong, then you've got a disaster waiting to happen, but this happens with pasteurised cheese as well."
Food Standards Australia have even provided a handy FAQ to assist with all your raw-milk cheese needs. But don't get too excited—we probably won't be seeing this new and improved product for a little while yet. "You'll start seeing a really interesting range of Australian artisan arthouse cheese starting to appear in the next couple of years or so," Studd explained. Try and resist the black cheese market until then.