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Whole Foods Passing Off Pasteurized Milk Cheese as Raw?

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I just paid a visit to my local Whole Foods (in Providence, RI) and noticed that while many of the sliced and wrapped cheeses labeled as being made from "raw milk" come from wheels of cheese that state that the milk used is actually pasteurized. I only noticed this because the slices of wrapped cheese were positioned on top of the wheels from which they were cut . The cheeses in question, from what I can remember, were a Mahon and a Emmentaler, as well as a couple of other varieties. All the cheeses were imported.

Because I try to eat only raw milk cheeses, the discrepancy between how the individual wedges are labeled and the wheels are labeled is disturbing. Has anyone else noticed this discrepancy? Is there an explanation? Or is my Whole Foods just mislabeling their products?

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  1. Emmentaler is generally made with raw milk. Some producers of Mahon use raw milk; others use pasteurized milk. This sounds to me like a mislabeling issue. I would bring the discrepancy to the attention of the manager and let him sort out what is what.

    1. A guest on a recent NPR show (sorry, but I really can't remember more) said recently that raw milk cheese is illegal in the US. My guess is that the label refers to the traditional/preferred way of making the cheese, while the ingredient list shows what's actually in it.

      6 Replies
      1. re: saacnmama

        It is not true that all raw milk cheese is illegal in the US. If it were, I'd have emigrated long ago to another country! What the relevant US regulation states is that no cheese made from raw milk may be sold unless it has been aged at least 60 days at a temperature of at least 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus cheeses like Brie and Camembert, which are not normally aged as long as 60 days, are available in the US only in pasteurized milk versions, while Europeans continue to enjoy them as raw milk cheeses. However, it is perfectly legal to sell longer aged cheeses here.

        1. re: cheesemaestro

          there's and addional restriction, no raw milk "soft cheeses" can be sold in the US either regardless of how long it's aged . that pretty much includes all bloomy cheeses (like bries and camamberts) and most washed rind cheeses (like munster, and Tallegio) with those it's pasturized or nothing. This is also why a lot of the imported cheeses sold in this country are actually analouges of the European ones (i.e. there is no real legal, Brie de Meux, or Crottin Chavignol sold in the US we get Fromage de Meux and Crottin Champocol) European AOC rules often require raw milk for the cheese to be desginated the "real" thing so the pasturized has to be given a new non protected name. Finally a lot of supermarket chains (and Whole foods counts in this case) tend to stock mostly or only pasturized versions whenever they can help it, there just less trouble to stock, stay "good" and salable longer, and require less experiance and hence less heavily trained staff) to deal with.

          1. re: jumpingmonk

            Your first contention--that no soft cheeses made from raw milk can be sold in the US regardless of length of aging--is not true. The reason we see very few raw milk soft cheeses is that such cheeses almost always reach their peak of ripeness and quality before 60 days, so they do not meet the 60-day rule. However, I can think of a couple of exceptions. Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont makes a bloomy rind cheese with raw milk called Constant Bliss. They age the cheese at a lower temperature to slow down the ripening process and therefore can get the cheese to 60 days in good condition. A cheesemaker I know in Pennsylvania makes a raw milk Camembert by essentially the same method. It is legal to sell these cheeses.

            What you say about Brie is basically correct, but I would like to clarify one thing. It's not "Brie" that has the AOC designation, but only two versions of Brie--Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun. As you point out, these two cheeses require raw milk, so the pasteurized versions cannot be sold under the same name in the US. Fromagerie Rouzaire, which makes the best Brie(-like) cheeses sold over here, markets them as Fromage de Meaux and Fromage de Melun. However, there are other Bries, such as Brie de Nangis, which are not AOC cheeses, and thus the pasteurized versions can be sold in the US as Brie.

            Regarding your final thoughts about supermarkets: It's not clear to me why a pasteurized cheese would remain in good shape longer than a raw milk cheese or require less experience to deal with it.

            1. re: cheesemaestro

              On the soft cheeses, I'm only reporting what I was told. As I recall the "no soft cheese" part was a recent add on to the law, I think it was an extension of concers over another Vacherin scare. I think it is possible that the rule only banned the importation of foreign raw milk soft cheeses, domestic ones may be treated more leniently.

              As for the handling thing it think part of it may be that as far as a lot of supermarkets are concerned the pasturized are just easier to handle, their a lot more consistent from one batch to antoher. Another point to consider is that Chian supermakers tend to need a LOT of any products they buy and that it be as unifrom as possible (including brand) , that pretty much requires them to go for industrial (as opposed to artisinal or farmhouse) versions of the cheese which are usually pasturized as a mtter of course. another part is likey paranoia and a desire to make any decision that will avoid potential, theoretical lawsuits.

          2. re: cheesemaestro

            Darn tooting! I never liked Brie until I had the unpasteurized version in France.

            1. re: pdxgastro

              Raw milk cheeses have more flavor than the same cheese produced with pasteurized milk. So the mislabeling is a problem.

              Pasteurization robs the cheese of its sense of place. It also "kills the flavor-producing enzymes, which then the cheesemaker has to add back in, putting the cheese back into the cheese," says Neville McNaughton, a cheese biochemist.