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Aug 1, 2008 07:34 AM

Quebec permits raw-milk cheese

From the Globe and Mail:

"Quebec has taken a new step toward culinary uniqueness: It will allow its cheese makers to produce the kind of stinky, oozing, unpasteurized bries and camemberts that are illegal in the rest of North America.

The government has modified regulations to allow the production and sale of raw-milk cheeses that have been aged for less than 60 days.

Elsewhere, such young cheeses are verboten due to health concerns."

Any thoughts? Comments on the article are generally positive but there is some mention of potential for infectious diseases.

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  1. Huh. One of the best things about my trip to Toronto last year was being able to buy raw-milk cheese. If it was illegal, the law was being flouted openly.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      In Ontario, aged raw milk cheeses are legal. I do not know, offhand, how long an aging period is required. Fresh cheeses, or inadequately aged cheeses, must be pasteurized.

      Quebec has a substantial, and growing, artisanal raw milk cheese industry. They have now officially "legalized" it after allowing it to operate for many years. These cheeses are illegal in Ontario. A few very expensive stores sell them openly anyway and some other stores likely sell them under the counter. The Ontario government will undoubtedly crack down eventually, though they haven't just yet.

      Ontario is currently prosecuting a farmer who has openly distributed raw milk for years. You buy a share in a cow that he maintains under what seem to be idyllic conditions. The law allows you to drink raw milk sourced from your own cow, but they decided to prosecute the guy anyway.

      A couple of years ago, Ontario tried to ban sushi, but there was so big an uproar that they backed down. However, there is much fear over raw milk as a disease vector in the distant past. Quebec is apparently satisfied that the raw milk cheeses haven't caused any harm.

    2. Can you or any other Canadians clarify something for me? I thought that you were able to find raw milk cheeses aged less than 60 days to begin with.

      12 Replies
      1. re: Miss Needle

        In Ontario (and as I assume all of Canada with the exception of Quebec) local production and sale of raw milk and raw milk-derived products are illegal. I'm not 100% sure on the laws regarding imports, but I am sure that the rules are different from locally made stuff.

        1. re: Blueicus

          You're right -- I meant to say Quebecois. I don't think I've ever run across raw milk cheese in Prince Edward Island.

          So is Quebec just permitting raw milk cheeses (aged less than 60 days) to produced and sold in Quebec? Or is it saying that it's now allowing all raw milk cheeses (aged less than 60 days) to be sold? I didn't realize that there were different rules for local/imported stuff. Icould have sworn I had some young raw milk cheese in Montreal many years ago.

          1. re: Miss Needle

            I've seen a variety of "fresh" raw milk cheeses sold when I was in Quebec... perhaps the law had simply been circumvented or that it only applied to exports. However, I did always notice these stickers with the label "raw milk/lait cru" stuck on the packages.

          2. re: Blueicus

            In Ontario raw milk cheese is legal if it's been aged at least 60 days. I thought this was the case all over Canada but I'm not sure what the deal is in all Provinces. It's currently the same in Quebec, but this proposal is to eliminate the 60 day rule.

            What I'm not clear on is whether this is a strictly Provincial matter, or do the Feds have a say on it as well. The news story I read seemed to indicate that Quebec had brought it up with the Federal government and they didn't immediately object. I don't know if they have a say in it at all.

            1. re: PaulV

              60 days is the same in the US. They didn't used to make much effort to enforce the law, but after 9/11 they cracked down, so we can no longer get, among other things, real Brie, Camembert, Reblochon, or crème fraîche.

              The shop I went to in Toronto was, as embee said, selling such cheeses openly.

              1. re: PaulV

                Food safety is a health issue, and in Canada, health (like education) falls under provincial jurisdiction. That's why BBQ pork is allowed to be just warm in Vancouver but must be refrigerated or hot in Calgary. The Feds provide transfer payments for health care and have some say in it, AFAIK it's been mostly related to issues like whether allowing private clinics contravenes the Health Act.

                On the other hand, if, as some of the comments to the article suggest (I have no idea if it's true or not), there were a TB outbreak linked to raw milk cheeses from Quebec I'm sure the Feds would get involved.

                Does anyone know what the difference in taste between 60-day aged raw milk cheeses and younger ones are? I'm sure I've had them in Europe (I love cheese, all kinds) but never knew whether the particular cheese I was eating was aged or not.

                1. re: hsk

                  Most cheeses aged for 60 days or longer are firm.

                  Banning raw-milk cheeses aged for less than 60 days prohibits the traditional, versions of most soft / runny cheeses. Camembert and Brie are at their peak after around a month and need to be eaten within 4-5 days. By 60 days they'd be grossly overripe and inedible. If you make them with pasteurized milk, they don't taste the same at all. Cheeses made with "thermalized" milk taste more like the raw-milk versions but they tend to go from unripe to overripe in a day.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I thought the U.S. ban only applied to imported cheeses, though. Am I mistaken in thinking that local cheesemakers can make and sell raw milk cheese of any age?

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      The 60-day rule for raw milk cheeses applies to both domestic and imported cheeses.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Sorta makes you wanna weep, doesnt it?.....

            2. One of the great pleasures I had last December in going to Montreal was being able to purchase and eat both raw milk and raw milk cheeses. It truly was an amazing treat that I am happy to repeat multiple times over when I return to Quebec this November.

              That being said, I was absolutely frustrated by the number of people who thought I was insane or had a death wish because I drank raw milk and ate raw milk cheese. The lecturing and scolding was simply over the top.

              The only people who didn't join in this chorus of dismay were my parents who grew up on farms and never knew of anything other than raw milk and raw milk products (like butter and cheese). I also remember my mother's dismay at the fact that raw milk simply soured while pasteurized milk spoiled.

              The concerns about infections diseases are valid if we are talking about animals being raised on filthy farms where simple cleaning techniques are ignored. That is where the crack down should be by any government. Without that strong arm, why should dairies care since they know that any bad bacteria can be destroyed through pasteurization?

              I do find it funny, however, that some of the same people that lectured me about eating raw milk products were the same people that were horrified with my home city of Phoenix passed an ordinance outlawing texting while driving.

              I think I would rather take my chances with raw milk cheeses than being in the line of sight of some driver trying to text message.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Seth Chadwick

                My view of raw milk cheese is that it is more easily digestible to a lot of people than pasteurized cheese. The only exception I would have is people with compromised immune systems, pregnant women, etc.

                It is such a shame that the US can't import or produce young raw milk cheeses. They're wonderful.

                1. re: Miss Needle


                  You and I agree on how wonderful raw milk cheeses are. A couple of cheeses, a baguette, some wine and a small sweet for dessert and I have a lunch fit for a king.

                2. re: Seth Chadwick


                  I'm from Montreal, and I just want to clarify - I am not 99% sure, but I am pretty confident that nowhere in Quebec can you purchase "raw", unpasteurized milk - unless you know a farmer and he'll let you drink right after he's milked a cow.

                  1. re: maisonbistro


                    You are correct. I double checked with my other half and the milk was not raw. I think since we were hyped on the raw milk cheese we bought at Jean Talon Market, I remembered the milk we purchased as being raw. My regrets for the mistake.

                3. The original comment has been removed
                  1. Hmm, I am a little confused.

                    I know I have bought raw milk Camembert and Brie in Montreal, or at least that is what I was told they were. They certainly tasted great! It may be that they were sold without regard for the law. Quebecois take their raw milk cheeses very seriously.

                    But it is true that I have only been able to purchase Epoisses which is pasteurized. Now there are different levels of pasteurization, and likely these cheeses are made with lightly pasteurized milk (token pasteurization?).

                    Is it that the new law permits Quebec cheesemakers to make and sell raw milk cheeses aged less than 60 days? that is what it sounds like.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: moh

                      "Is it that the new law permits Quebec cheesemakers to make and sell raw milk cheeses aged less than 60 days?"

                      Yes. According to *The Definitive Guide to Canadian Artisanal and Fine Cheese*: "Canadian laws allow raw milk to be used in the production of cheese ... For the cheese to be sold, it must be aged for no less than 60 days. After this date, the potentially harmful bacteria have died off."

                      Imported raw milk cheese is allowed in Canada because of a loophole. The law says it, too, must be aged 60 days before sale. For the longest time, this effectively prevented the importation of most raw milk cheeses. Pierre-Yves Chaput had the idea of importing "baby" raw milk cheeses, maturing them for two months in his South Shore cellars and then marketing them.

                      BTW, Canadian law doesn't distinguish between raw milk and thermalized milk in cheese production. Much if not most of the so-called raw milk cheese sold here is actually thermalized milk cheese. As far as I know, all the Époisses sold in Quebec is either pasteurized or thermalized.

                      1. re: carswell

                        So does that mean all the imported raw milk Bries/Camembert/soft cheeses I have been happily eating in Quebec were in fact thermalized cheeses? Or cheeses aged more than 60 days?

                        This certainly could explain the stinkier Brie I had in Paris a few years ago... That was definitely raw milk Brie. (I use stinky in a very positive way here. that was a fine cheese)

                        1. re: moh

                          "So does that mean all the imported raw milk Bries/Camembert/soft cheeses I have been happily eating in Quebec were in fact thermalized cheeses?"

                          Don't know about all but many and probably most of them were. The better mongers can usually tell you, but you always have to inquire.

                          "Or cheeses aged more than 60 days?"

                          If they're legally imported, yes (unless the law has changed since I last looked). It has been rumoured that some mongers sometimes offer true raw-milk cheeses matured abroad and spirited into the country by illicit means. However, I think these tend to be cheeses more esoteric than Brie. And, anyway, I'm sure a fine, upstanding, law-abiding citizen like yourself would never, ever be tempted by such contraband, however delicious, even were it obtainable mere blocks away from your humble abode.

                          1. re: carswell

                            "I'm sure a fine, upstanding, law-abiding citizen like yourself would never, ever be tempted by such contraband, however delicious, even were it obtainable mere blocks away from your humble abode."

                            Never ever ever. Nope. Would never think of such a thing. Won't even eat the rind of the cheese, now that I have been informed. Velveeta all the way baby.

                            (scurries away rodent-like to dig a hole in the floor to hide away the stash)

                            1. re: moh

                              Raw-milk Velveeta. Now there's a thought.

                              (Actually, it'd probably have to be raw-edible-oil-product Velveeta, eh?)