Cheese lovers, rejoice! Now you can celebrate the taste, and—according to new studies—also celebrate its health-boosting nutrients. You see, cheese isn’t just good for building strong bones, like we were taught in school as a kid. Certain types of cheese are chock-full of friendly bacteria, or probiotics, which keeps your microbiome happy and healthy. 1
Probiotics continue to be credited with many positive health benefits. They can help to block or ease symptoms of a variety of health issues, including diarrhea, yeast and urinary tract infections, irritable bowel syndrome, skin and autoimmune conditions, colds and flu, heart disease, and other serious illnesses. 2
But here’s the catch – live probiotic cultures only thrive in raw cheese.
What is a Raw Cheese?
Whether it be goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, or cow’s milk, milk that has not been pasteurized is known as “raw milk.”
Pasteurization is a common method of destroying nasty pathogens that may be lurking in milk. The process has been used for decades (by many nations) to protect people from some serious, and potentially deadly, illnesses such as listeria. For pasteurization to occur, milk must be heated to a temperature of 161 °F.
The dilemma is that though pasteurization is there to protect us, it also kills the friendly bacteria.
Raw cheese is cheese made from raw milk. In France, and much of Europe, there are limitless varieties of “raw milk” cheeses available, many of them high in probiotics. The French have very strict codes to monitor unpasteurized cheese processes, but they also have a strict code of what constitutes real French cheese – and that means that certain cheeses must be made with raw milk in order to be that type of cheese. For example, many soft cheeses like Brie, Camembert or Roquefort must be made from raw milk in France.
The problem for those of us residing in the U.S. is that all commercially sold cheeses must be pasteurized. The FDA has a mandatory pasteurization rule for all milk products (domestic and imported) that are intended for human consumption. So, sadly, that French imported Brie you adore may be from France, but it’s not made in the traditional way. It’s an “export” product.
There is, however, one loophole to the FDA ruling: aged cheeses. Cheeses can be made from raw milk (skipping the pasteurization process) in the U.S. if they are aged for at least 60 days. Aging allows the acids and salt in cheese to naturally destroy harmful bacteria over time, and research has determined that any pathogens should die out over this period. The cheese’s acidity also prevents pathogens in the environment from latching on. This acidity in cheese is actually lactic acid, made by beneficial lactic acid bacteria which are a probiotic bacterium. The probiotic strain Lactobacillus casei (L. casei) is a good example of a lactic acid bacteria frequently found in cheese. 3
So, let’s take a look at the three main probiotic cheese options that you can find in the U.S.:
Popular aged cheeses
Aged cheeses are your only route around pasteurization. You actually wouldn’t be eating that Italian Parmigiano Reggiano otherwise, as it cannot legally be called that unless it’s made from raw milk (much like sparkling wine that’s not from the French Champagne region). Luckily, Parmesan cheese is usually aged between 12-36 months, so it fits within the required 60 days. Asiago, Colby, Gorgonzola, Gouda, Gruyere, and Cheddar cheese (as well as many more) also have aging periods greater than 60 days.
Artisanal cheeses are starting to become a big “little industry” in the U.S. Artisanal cheeses are raw milk cheeses that are produced and sold directly from small farms, produce markets or, yes, even your local Whole Foods. These raw milk cheeses can come in many forms – soft, creamy, crumbly or firm; cow, goat, or sheep – but they must be aged to meet the FDA’s 60-day rule, no matter what type of cheese they are. You’ll find many more interesting types of probiotic cheese options here than the ones that your local supermarket sells.
Probiotic cheeses actually have been pasteurized, but then probiotics are added back in. Probiotic cheese is becoming increasingly popular, as it’s a perfect combination that eradicates fears of pathogens, yet it provides higher levels of probiotic bacteria. Probiotic cheese can most easily be found in your local health food store.
Or, make your own …
If you’ve always been interested in cheesemaking, this could be a good time to try your own hand at it. Homemade cottage cheese is one of the easiest cheeses to make from scratch, and if you prepare it with your favorite, and trusted, brand of raw milk, you’ll have plenty of the probiotic content. All you need is a gallon of raw milk and some salt.
- Take the cream off the top of the milk and pour into a bowl.
- Cover with cheesecloth (that’s how it got its name) and leave at room temperature for a day or two – until it reaches a gelatin-like consistency.
- Using a knife, cut the curd into tiny squares, and transfer the mixture to a pot filled with about an inch of water. Heat on a low setting (remember we don’t want to pasteurize it) for about 5-10 minutes, until you see the milk separate into the curds and the whey – the lumps and the liquid.
- Scoop the curds into a strainer, and rinse with cold, filtered water.
- Allow the curds to drain from the whey for 2-3 hours.
- Crumble up the curds into small chunks, and add salt to taste if necessary. Your cottage cheese should last for a good few weeks in the refrigerator.
One of the biggest arguments for changing the “raw laws” here in the U.S. is the belief that raw-milk cheese contains all the necessary enzymes that people require to digest milk. And after all these years of destroying those enzymes by pasteurization, many people now have issues digesting dairy.
Besides jumping on a plane to France, you can still get your probiotic cheese fix here in the U.S.– if you know where to look or how to make your own. And now you do!
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