Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Whey and the Life

At the Leisure Learning cheesemaking class last Tuesday night.

God gave us every good thing to preserve health.

That is my conclusion from all the reading I've been doing about traditional diets and farming methods. I am completely, sincerely, almost painfully awestruck by His creation, down to the tiniest microbes bursting with life.

For instance, Acres USA reported that the droplets of moisture that you can see in a healthy cow's nostrils actually fertilize the plants that the cow grazes. A botany specialist "harvested this culture, diluted it with water, and sprayed it on potted plants. The usual treated and untreated plants anointed the greenhouse. There was a 50 percent increase in those
treated with the cow culture."

Now I am learning about the wonders of traditional aged cheeses, the portable milk.

Last Tuesday night, Emma and her friend, Scarlett, participated in a cheesemaking class. The teachers demonstrated how to make goat milk chevre and then taught about cheesemaking in general as they passed around samples of a variety of homemade or locally-produced artisanal cheeses to sample. Though the chevre was pasteurized, I found a strong defense of raw milk cheese in the class handout, which said:

Is the nutritive quality of pasteurized milk high enough to be acceptable?

The answer is clear: NO! Heat treated milk is dead!. . .Only now are we beginning to understand the system where bacteria, yeasts, molds, enzymes, minerals, and many other yet unknown biochemical elements work together to make the natural milk what it is: the perfect food.

It is beyond any doubt that pasteurization destroys this perfect balance: all the flora are killed, the minerals are denaturalized (and hence become inactive), and most of the enzymes are eliminated. . .

After pasteurization, the calcium is denaturalized. If we don't add calcium to pasteurized milk, we cannot make good cheese. . .

It is clear that the ideal basic material for cheesemaking is raw milk. For the cheesemaking process, the milk is heated at body temperature or lower. Cheese made from raw milk is a living product, the taste develops during the ripening process. The bacteria, yeasts, and molds keep working. In exchange for their food, they grant us the greatest aromas and flavors.

After the class was over, the teacher who hosted it in her home invited us to watch The Cheese Nun, a DVD produced by PBS. Emma and I sat mesmerized through the whole thing. It is about an American Benedictine, Sister Noella, whose expertise is the fungi that create the distinct flavors of different traditional cheeses.

A succinct explanation of her work is given by an International Herald Tribune article as quoted here by :

PARIS — Mother Noella Marcellino likes cheese a lot, though what intrigues her most is not its middle but its rind. And on the rind her delight is the Geotrichum candidum fungus, Gc for short, that flourishes on the Bethlehem cheese made by her abbey, Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut.

Strains of Gc are also found in such cheeses as Reblochon and Brie, doing good work in enhancing flavor and repelling pathogens. They are so diverse that they even vary from one cheese cave to another in the Auvergne - Mother Noella found 14 different strains among seven St. Nectaire-cheese makers - and all in all they testify to the richness of creation, as Mother Noella summarized in her doctoral dissertation, "Biodiversity of Geotrichum candidum Strains Isolated from Traditional French Cheese."

As she gathered samples from French cheese caves and studied them, Sister Noella befriended artisan cheesemakers. Many of them are only making cheese for their family's use now, as even France is forcing cheesemakers out of business by regulations. Surprisingly, the beauty of convent life is allowed to be shown, making this DVD at once a medium for promoting vocations to the religious life and a defense of artisanal cheesemaking.

More Interesting Tidbits from the Cheese Class Handout:

Cheesemaking from raw milk is craftsman's work. It demands skill and experience to work with a living material influenced by constantly changing circumstances: temperature, relative humidity, amount of bacteria, fat content, and more.

Why do the milk companies prefer to pasteurize the milk before processing, and why are the authorities so determined to impose mandatory pasteurization?

The milk companies work with dead material, unchanging in all circumstances. They don't need craftsmen, only workers who do menial labor. Their products are common. These companies cannot match the supreme quality of the craftsmen's products. The latter occupy an important part of the market. For example: seventy (70) percent of all legally protected French denomination cheeses are raw milk cheeses, including Roquefort cheese which is produced from over 1 million sheep.

The cheese factories lobby the FDA, Ministry of Agriculture, etc., to emit laws to impose a mandatory pasteurization of the milk before any processing. They inspire the media to keep the prejudices alive. For instance, the myth that raw milk provokes listeria contamination. In reality, listeria infection is the result of bad hygienic handling. Statistics show that there are more cases of listeria infection with pasteurized milk than with raw milk. In fact, after pasteurization, the milk can be infected much easier, because of the absence of the self-defending elements. . .

The factories' goal is to achieve a uniform quality of milk at a low standard. Once all raw material has a uniform standard, the craftsmen will be unable to produce a unique, artisanal, wholesome, and flavorful product. With their high cost rate (due to low production) artisan cheesemakers cannot compete with the cheese factories on price and the final result will be: big factories take over the entire market.

The large cheese trusts know that the power and influence of the health and food specialists and gourmet cheese connoisseurs is limited as is their ability to protest against their plans. So far, the mass of consumers are not aware of the issue. The universities and scientists receive their funding from USDA, FDA, and big industry, so therefore, they stay quiet, only looking for arguments supporting general pasteurization.


Emily G. said...

My parents and I used to make our own cheese from raw goat's milk back when I raised goats. It's pretty neat.

I think I might have to try to get that DVD from Netflix.

Wendy Haught said...

I want to see the DVD again, so I may be ordering it as well!