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Dec 2, 2002 10:33 PM

Epoisses and other banned cheeses

  • t

A specific question followed by a more general one:

Can any cheese maven tell me how to tell if the Epoisses cheese I recently saw in a cheese shop in the US is the raw milk or the pasteurized version? It's made by Berthaut, and I understand that this company makes raw as well pasteurized. Is there a way to tell which is which? The label didn't say that it WASN'T pasteurized, nor did it say that it WAS pasteurized, and frankly I'm a little afraid to ask the guy behind the counter, lest he think I'm part of a sting operation or something. I'm also embarrassed to admit that given my current level of cheese knowledge, I might not even be able to tell the difference if tasted it.

Which leads me to my general question:
Is it bad form to simply straight out ask the local cheesemonger if she carries any raw milk cheeses? I've heard that a lot of the better cheese shops in the US regularly, if illegally, sell them. Is there a code word or phrase I should use to get her to show me the secret stash? If there IS a code word, and you're worried about posting it on the internet and ruining the party, I totally understand. Email me!

Just kidding. Sort of.


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  1. yes, foodtv has made me aware of this "issue." but I also have seen several instances of raw milk cheese being sold in the US. need some real info. also need bigger wine and cheese budget to properly explore the issue.

    3 Replies
    1. re: wrayb

      ok, here is a link to a magazine article that gives good info. they point out that it is only "fresh, fewer than 60 days old" cheese that are illegal to import.

      now, i don't know if the cheese you are speaking about is one of them "fewer than 60 days old" cheeses. but i have no problem finding places in the US listed on the web that serve epoisse.


      1. re: wrayb
        Melanie Wong

        Yes, Epoisses ripens in less than 60 days.


        1. re: Melanie Wong

          yes, interesting, i found the Academie du Fromage web site and in English about Epoisses it says:

          "It takes weeks minimum of maturing." [sic]

          in French: "Il demande 4 semaines minimum d'affinage."

          charmingly convenient typo, eh.


    2. Epoisse in this country has been what they call "demi-pasteurized." Rather than the usual pasteurization process at high temperature for a second or two, the milk is heated to a lower temperature for a longer period of time. I don't have the exact numbers in my head. Anyway, this still sterilizes the milk without carmelizing the sugars, or robbing the milk of all of its integrity. For the time being, this process is acceptable by Customs, and is legal to import. All cheeses that are pasteurized that are aged less than 60 days are perfectly legal. As for the rest of your request for information, I kindly bow out of this discussion.

      1. It is always okay to ask about raw milk cheeses. You will probably earn the respect of the cheesemonger for asking.

        Raw milk cheese *is* legal in the US and there are cheeses aged less than 60 days on the market. However, it is illegal to *import* cheeses aged less than 60 days so anything coming in from France is a bastardized product for the US market.

        The French for raw milk is "au lait cru" and it is always listed on packages in France. (There is a lot bad, fake brie and camembert there, too.)

        Sometimes you will see the banned cheese and they will say "au lait cru" and you will think you have discovered a treasure, a smuggled item, the holy grail! But you haven't. They are always overaged and stinky with ammonia.

        5 Replies
        1. re: JudiAU
          Canchito (J. DiStefano)

          Could someone pls. run down a list of some raw milk cheeses available in the U.S. Or perhaps recommend a cheese shop in the New York City area that carries them. I've been meaning to try some after reading a great piece in The New Yorker's last food issue. thanks

          Eat on,


          1. re: Canchito (J. DiStefano)

            Neil's Yard Dairy in London ages many British farmhouse cheese and then distributes them in the US. Most of their cheeses are raw milk. You can buy them at most good cheese stores, even Whole Foods carries them although I think they mishandle cheese. (BTW- A wonderful side trip when you are in London.)


            1. re: JudiAU

              forget whole foods, they charge 15-20% higher than what zabars and fairway charge for the same product.

          2. re: JudiAU
            Melanie Wong

            It is not only illegal to import, but to SELL, raw milk cheeses aged less than 60 days, although as you know, many do. Domestic producers must adhere to this as well.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              You are correct. I double checked with the Cheese Society.

          3. a

            I worked for a few months at the Bread & Circus/Wholefoods cheese counter here in Providence and we prided ourselves on carrying a wide selection of raw milk cheeses. It is true that cheeses younger than 60 days old are not permitted to be imported into the US. I seem to remember that the Epoisses we sold was 'au lait cru'.

            Working there was quite an eye-opener, you would be surprised (or maybe not!) at how many people refused to buy Parmeggiano Reggiano because it is made with raw milk, even though it has been aged for a couple of years! This is due to a lack of education, raw milk cheeses are safe provided they are properly made in hygienic conditions. Even the European Union has half-heartedly tried to ban raw milk cheeses over the years, shame on them.

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