This is the third installment in the Raw Cheese series. First, I shared four easy raw cheese recipes, and then we talked about the basic cultures, equipment and supplies. Today, we'll talk about why raw cheese is so great.
Start with Raw Dairy
Raw cheeses are fermented and cultured foods that begin with raw dairy. On its own, the raw dairy contains enzymes and beneficial bacteria – all good for your digestion and your gut.
To make raw cheese, we culture the raw milk by encouraging the proliferation of already present beneficial bacteria, or by adding more beneficial strains of bacteria and/or yeast to the milk. So, the culturing heightens the probiotic levels and therefore, probiotic benefits.
Then we go on to curdle the cultured milk, which firms it up depending on how much rennet is used. This discussion is going to focus on the culturing stage, as this is the process that offers the benefits.
One method of culturing milk, which I haven't mentioned specifically yet, is just plain old souring, which milk does spontaneously.
“This is due to the process of lacto-fermentation during which lactic-acid-producing bacteria begin digesting or breaking down both milk sugar (lactose) and milk protein (casein). When these friendly bacteria have produced enough lactic acid to inactivate all putrefying bacteria, the milk is effectively preserved from spoilage for several days or weeks.” —Nourishing Traditions
In the cheeses I shared last week, the common culture used for three of those cheeses is an all-purpose mesophilic (MA or MM). These are starter sets containing two or three strains of Lactococcus bacteria that culture at middle (“meso”) temperatures. For example, they proliferate, producing lactic acid, around room temperature for some cheeses (the chevre) or 86 degrees for others (queso freso and feta). You might say that we are speeding up or furthering a process that would happen spontaneously to some degree.
In kefir cheese, the culture we use to create the kefir, which then becomes the cheese, is a probiotic “grain.” The grain is made of a combination of up to 50 beneficial yeasts and bacteria that live together symbiotically. When combined with raw milk, they feed on the lactose and multiply throughout the milk quite rapidly. The culturing happens within a day or two, depending on the consistency and taste you desire. We then use the drip method to separate the curds from the whey, resulting in a soft, spreadable kefir cheese that is brimming with good bacteria and yeast.
The Good Stuff
In all low temperature (below 115 to 118 degrees) methods of fermenting raw milk, the benefits are outstanding. The milk lasts longer, for several days or weeks, or in the case of cheese, for many months. The enzymes and bacteria remain viable, as opposed to using higher temperature processing that would kill them.
Here's how culturing dairy – specifically, consuming various raw cheeses – aids the body, according to Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Morell:
- lowers cholesterol and protects against bone loss
- provides beneficial bacteria and lactic acid to the digestive tract, which guard against illness, pathogens and help to fully digest our food
- increases vitamin B and C content during fermentation
- makes milk more assimilable for those with lactose intolerance – a large part of the lactose is transformed into lactic acid
- contains lactase to help break down remaining lactose in the digestive tract
- increases enzyme activity that contributes to digestion
Pass on Pasteurized
Wondering if you can do the same thing with pasteurized milk? Nina Planck, in Real Food: What to Eat and Why answers this question.
“Raw milk is important to cheese. The enzymes and beneficial bacteria in raw milk aid fermentation. Pasteurized milk limits the action of rennet and retards ripening. Though many good cheeses are made from pasteurized milk, cheeses made from raw milk often contain more complex, subtle flavors — sometimes richer, sometimes mellower. People also swear by raw milk cheese for its beneficial enzymes and bacteria, which are tonics for digestion and immunity.”
I will conclude this series in the next article by sharing a list of cheese-making resources: books and merchants. I hope you'll add yours, too, as I cannot possibly know them all. Be sure to let me know if you have any more questions about raw cheese-making as I will also try to clear up lingering issues in the final article (or possibly add another if any questions warrant it).
Want to learn more about raw cheesemaking? Check out my online class, the Cultured Dairy & Basic Cheese eCourse.
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