Raw milk cheese: an explorer’s guide

Our publicist Eve Jaremka quizzes us on exactly why raw milk takes the flavours of cheese to a whole new level.

I’m a very selective cheese fan. I treat it like fine wine. I like my cheese flavours to be unexpected, deep, complex, multi-faceted – like a kaleidoscope. Lately I began to notice a common theme every time I was blown away by certain cheeses I’d taste with Mel and Lyndall – they’d almost always reply with a knowing nod: “That one’s a raw milk cheese”.

So I finally sat them down and asked – what’s so different about raw milk cheese? Something I should know? I wanted to be in on the secret.

Turns out that there is a difference – a huge one.

So, let’s chat raw milk cheeses from a cheesemonger’s perspective…

Mel said: “It isn’t just the naturally occurring bacteria in raw milk that give you all those amazing flavour profiles. It is the country of origin, the region that the cheese is made, pasture the animals are grazing on and the season it is made in.

So, what are aspiring cheese connoisseurs likely to experience with a raw milk cheese at the deli and which ones should we try?

“You’ll experience many layers of flavour, and a lot of depth,” says Melanie. “Comte for example – I have a 12-month old comte at the deli (it comes in various ages) and it’s said to have 83 flavours and aromas that you can pick up out of it.”

Yes – 83 flavours and aromas. I did say this was for the serious cheese connoisseurs.

“Another one is called Jurassic D’Ètè Affinè,” Mel continues. “It’s only ever made from raw milk and only from the summer milking. It’s sweet, it’s rich, nutty, almost spicy, woody… all these flavours that come through that you don’t get in a pasteurised milk cheese.

“Also all your parmesans (by Parmesan we mean the real deal Grana Padano, Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano etc)

In terms of Australian raw milk cheese, there’s Bruny Island and Hunter Belle that have been given permission to produce some raw milk cheeses.

“They all have a real richness, complex is the best way to describe it. If you’re serious about your cheese, you want your raw milk cheese.”

A serious adventure in flavour

Lyndall said: “I just love making cheese from beautiful fresh milk produced by healthy animals grazing on the new flush of spring grasses. There is a freshness a sweetness that comes through into your cheese.”  “Depending on what the animals are grazing on, the flavours of the different foliage comes through.”

“Tasting raw milk or making cheese from raw milk, you will find  regional seasonal flavours, thanks to the huge range of fauna,” says Lyndall.

“But when they pasteurise and homogenise milk, it destroys all the bacteria – both good and the bad – and you lose a lot of the flavour. Milk is often standardised to the lowest possible level, so that it tastes the same whether you’re in Melbourne, or in Brisbane. You’re not getting any of those subtleties.”

(As a recap: pasteurising kills bacteria in milk, while homogenising disperses its fat molecules under high pressure – intended to stop the cream from separating in the milk. Both processes involve heat.)

“Don’t get us wrong, there are amazing cheeses made with pasteurised milk,” says Lyndall. “Pasteurisation is law in Australia. Only in the past 18 months a few cheesemakers have been given permission to make raw milk cheeses but they have to mature for a certain period of time. In countries such as France, Spain and Italy, they’ve been using raw milk for centuries and still do.”

So, really, in a connoisseur’s sense, raw milk is to cheese what a single malt scotch is to a blended whisky (or a cognac to a brandy!).

I can only describe the experience of raw milk cheese as tasting a very mature fine wine or smelling a luxury perfume. It starts off tasting and smelling one way, and keeps unfolding and changing through the middle and top notes.

On my way out, I sample the Jurassic D’Ètè Affinè. It goes from tasting like buttered toast, to roasted hazelnuts, to an earthy mushroom broth, to a tangy white-wine cream sauce, to spiced pear.

The flavour profile wheel below will give you an idea as to just how many qualities you can get from your raw milk cheese. I’d call it a roadmap for a serious adventure in flavour.

Wheel of aromas  Raw milk cheese

 *One last tip from Mel:

If you are exploring raw milk cheese, you’ll want a cheese slicer to really make the most of the flavour profiles, by exposing as much of the surface area of your cheese morsel to the air.