Oriol Urgell, a cheese expert from Barcelona Spain, recently paid a visit to our cheese factory at Woodside. His experience spans more than 20 years with the Spanish and EU dairy industries, and he is also an accomplished cheese judge. His purpose in Australia was primarily to visit cheese makers assisting them with technical aspects of their cheese making and facilities. I offered Oriol a Woodside Cheese Wrights degustation of around a dozen cheeses in order to gain his insights about our cheese making standards.
One cheese stood out for him and perhaps it comes as no surprise. A raw milk cheese, named Greedy Goat modeled on our semi hard goat milk cheese wrapped in vine leaves, we call Figaro. His brow furrowed in deep concentration before he said “this is the best cheese I have tasted all year, this is very good, it is elegant with length of flavour and is very complex, I am very happy to taste this cheese“ I had to explain of course this cheese is only for tasting. It is not commercially available due to the current Food Safety Standards regulations laid down by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.
I have been making raw milk cheese for well over 10 years for my own interest and use. I have conducted many blind tastings over this period with individuals across many disciplines, who I consider to have excellent palates. I have always personally made these cheeses ensuring they are made from the same milk source on the same day, one batch raw, one batch pastuerised and finally matured in identical conditions for the same period of time.
Interestingly everyone has pointed to the raw milk version having length of flavour, better texture, more complexity and a slight colour variation of the paste. This is also consistent with my own experience with raw milk cheese overseas where I have had the opportunity to sampled hundreds of raw milk cheeses. It puzzles me somewhat, that I can purchase the raw milk Roquefort legally in Australia. It is made in France, using French milk from somewhere, by an unknown French cheese maker, shipped to Australia over several days and it is all quite legal after passing micro testing in France. I on the other hand, a reasonably well known cheese maker in Australia, who can point to the local milk source and ship to retailers next day, am forbidden to make the same cheese commercially, have it tested and available for consumers who may choose to buy it.
Nobody in their right mind would want to produce anything that could be harmful to eat, that is why we have food safety systems with rigour. They are most definitely welcomed and rightly have their place. If I am prepared to make raw milk cheese within a rigorous food safety framework, test every batch before release for sale, why can I not have the choice to make and sell this product? I might add all the raw milk cheeses I have made have returned safe test results.
Currently there is a clause in the Standard that allows a version of Raw Milk cheese making which is a step in the right direction, however, it only allows hard cheese to be made. It does not allow styles such as Roquefort which are high in moisture as well as softer cheeses to be produced. While I am working within that framework with Greedy Goat, which Oriol was captivated by, I have had to change the way I produce the cheese to meet the criteria this Standard requires. Obviously the result is somewhat different.
Oriol acknowledged much had been achieved in the Australian cheese industry given its short history by European standards. He suggested that Australia needs to differentiate itself and produce some uniquely Australian cheeses in order to gain global interest. Chef Andre Ursini, from Andres Cucina and Polenta Bar, recently said in an interview at the 2013 Savour Australia "the personality of our flavours comes through the fact that we are such a young country and we haven't yet written the rules and we are not dictated to by history or the past" My interpretation of this is what an enviable position we are in.
Some of the world’s most famous cheeses are only made from raw milk. There is no reason why any cheese produced using raw milk should pose a greater risk than cheese produced using pasteurised milk provided recognised International Food Safety standards are adopted for cheese makers in Australia. Thus enabling Australia to compete on an even playing field in order to have a competitive advantage in this very specialised food area, offering cheese makers and consumers choice.
The Canadian, Edmonton Journal recently reported about raw milk cheese making: “Food-borne pathogens exist. They are a fact of life they always have been, always will be. But to blame, or move to eliminate, an entire food culture, in existence for thousands of years, stimulating both the palate and the economy, would be an overreaction.”