From the great Harold McGee comes an investigation into raw milk, bacteria and cultural evolution:
On our journey up to the Stichelton Dairy last September, Mr. Hodgson [a cheesemaker] explained how cheese quality progressed for centuries, then declined in the age of mass production and supermarkets.
“I think of it as a Darwinian process,” he said. “People make cheeses many times a year, in many ways, and all kinds of factors — accidents, chance, laziness, intentional changes — cause variations in the result. In the past, the changes that caused an improvement survived because consumers selected the better cheese. The problem today is that there’s very little selection pressure to improve quality, because people don’t get to taste cheeses and compare them before buying. So instead they choose on the basis of price, looks and advertising.”
For more than two decades, Mr. Hodgson has worked to restore selection pressure for excellence in British cheeses. Customers at his shops in Covent Garden and near Borough Market are encouraged to taste before they buy. Then he visits the cheesemakers “as the customer’s proxy,” tasting through their cheeses with them, buying selectively, and working with them to improve consistency and quality.
Mr. Hodgson is a proponent of cheeses made with raw milk. Many scientific studies have confirmed that they have an especially full flavor thanks to the ripening activity of harmless bacteria present in the milk. Pasteurization eliminates these bacteria.
So do your part and buy raw milk cheese. (I promise that, once you taste a raw milk Brie de Meux, you’ll never go back to that mass produced stuff.) Help preserve bacterial diversity in cheesemaking!