I've done some posts on French cheeses and Auvergne cheeses (25% of all French cheese comes from our region) as a result in taking part in a session of the summer university of the French branch of the global organisation Slow Food.
The first session was on 'The Cheeses of the Auvergne' but the second one was a wider discussion about the pros and cons of raw milk versus pasteurised milk in cheese production and then a bling tasting.
Marie de Metz Noblat began by talking about what we mean by cheese (under French law) and also how to taste cheese.
Notice the flavours, the smells, the trigeminal sensations (e.g texture on the tongue) and how the taste of the cheese remains with you after you have swallowed.
As regards raw milk versus pasteurised milk we tried three blue cheeses (one raw milk, one pasteurised, one pasteurised 'industriel' as opposed to 'fermier'), two Cantals (raw and pasteurised) and two St. Nectaires (raw and pasteurised).
- Lait cru (raw milk - never heated above 40 degrees Celsius)
- Lait pasteurise (Pasteurised milk - heated to at least 72 degrees Celsius for 15 seconds)
- Lait thermise (Semi-pasteurised milk - heated above 40 but below 72 degrees Celsius)
- Lait microfiltre (Micro-filtered pasteurised milk)
Essentially most cheese (in overall tonnage) is made from pasteurised milk because most cheese is made in cheese-making factories.
What they want is milk that can keep during the transportation phase, keep at the factory; eliminate problematic bacteria which cause inconsistency in the taste of the cheese (and the modern world likes consistency), spoiling, shorten the cheese's shelf-life or cause any health risks (lastly).
A litre of milk will have about one million germs in it; pasteurising reduces that by 95% to 5%. (50,000.)
Personally, I drink organic 'lait cru' which I buy at the market or get given by my neighbours, and I always prefer 'fermier' cheese over 'laitier'. I'm not dead yet.
No self-respecting French rural woman would alter such a dairy diet just because she was pregnant. That's not to say that more and more pregnant women are not avoiding unpasteurised products, but they remain very much in the minority and, here in the Auvergne, I have yet to meet one.
If cheese is made from 'lait thermique' it must be clearly visible on the packaging.
Fermier - Farm cheese: cheese made at the farm by the farmer with milk from his/her own herd. It is often made with 'lait cru' but NOT always.
Laitier - Cheese made from the milk of several herds in a 'fromagerie'/laitier i.e an industrial plant of some level. The milk used can be raw (rare for transportation reasons) 'pasteurised', 'thermique' or 'micro-filtered'.
The origins of a cheese's aroma.
The milk is sterile when it comes out of the cow.
Unlike wine tasters who tend to be more poetic in their descriptions, the French cheese making community sees itself as more scientific, and as such, has designed 'approved' technical terms to help people describe the flavour of a cheese. (Yes, this is true.) These diagrams are these tasting term charts that professional cheese tasters use.
As a result, any given cheese has a 'sensory' profile, explained graphically as below for four different types of cheese.
Why don't we make cheese from women's breast milk? The problem is that it is very low in proteins compared with the milk of cows, sheep, goats, buffalo, horses etc. (There might be other reasons too I imagine.)
Why does France have so many cheeses? Because it has so many 'terroires', a very French notion and a difficult to translate word meaning a combination of geological conditions, climate and people.
The four cheese making stages
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