Cheesemakers may be allowed to keep the bugs

The Chesdale Cheese featured in the previous post is at one end of the gastronomic spectrum.

New Zealand also has some very fine examples from the gorumet end, produced by boutique cheese makers such as Whitestone and Blue River.

However, cheese aficionados claim that these cheeses lack the x factor because they have to be made from pasteurised milk and the pasteurisation process which kills the bad bugs also kills the good bacteria which produce the finest flavour.

This may be about to change.

The Food Safety Authority  has mooted a change to allow some cheeses to be produced from unpasteurised milk.

NZFSA’s technical standards and systems assistant director Scott Crerar says under current food regulations, only a small range of unpasteurised milk products are imported and sold. The proposed rules released today for discussion would allow the production, sale, export and import of unpasteurised milk products that have an acceptable bacterial safety level.

“Many local manufacturers support the plan to address inconsistencies in the law that allow some raw milk cheeses made overseas to be imported whilst domestic manufacturers may not make their own equivalent products,” Scott says. “There is also support for the system from consumers who relish the thought of being able to enjoy a wider range of these products.”

. . . The proposed framework recognises some unpasteurised milk products can be produced so they pose a low food safety risk to the general population. However, vulnerable consumers – such as babies and toddlers under three, the frail elderly, expectant mothers and people with weakened immune systems – need to avoid eating them. The proposals include strategies to manage risks for vulnerable consumers by making them aware unpasteurised milk products can pose a higher risk than traditional pasteurised products.

The cheese group which poses no more health risk than pasteurised cheese, including extra-hard grating Parmesan-style raw milk cheeses, can be produced under existing dairy requirements.

The group which includes Roquefort, don’t pose much risk to the general population so could be produced with awhat they call a strategy to manage the risk to vulnerable people and we’d call warnings.

 A third group cannot currently be produced to an acceptable level of safety for the general population so will not be allowed to be produced in New Zealand, or imported.

Products able to be made under the proposed system would have special physical or chemical characteristics and/or be subjected to processing techniques that mean any surviving bacteria would be at safe levels.

The FSA plans to hold workshops in June to outline the proposals and they’ve got a discussion paper with more details.

One concern is that any  problems with gourmet cheese could impact on the reputation of our dairy produce in general and threaten exports markets.

But if other countries manage to produce cheese with unpastuerised milk without endangering their citizens, we ought to be able to find a way to do it here.

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