Pasteurized vs. Unpasteurized Cheese

cheese classification pasteurization


There are two different methods of getting rid of bacteria found in cheese which make it safe to eat, but this also leads to sometimes sacrificing the authentic taste of cheese. Listed below are the processes that cheese will go through depending on what needs to be achieved for the final product. 

Pasteurized Cheese

When manufacturers produce pasteurized cheese, the milk is first heated to approximately 65° C (149° F).

This process kills off any pathogenic bacteria that could be potentially harmful. Treating the milk with Pasteurization is considered more efficient on a large scale, as there is less care necessary in the milk collection stage where bacteria from the cows runs rampant. Pasteurizing the milk also extends the shelf life of dairy products.

Although pasteurization does kill off harmful bacteria, it also kills the good bacteria that gives some raw milk cheeses their unique, complex flavours.

You'll find that most of the cheeses we have available today in Canada are pasteurized.

Unpasteurized Cheese (RAW)

To make unpasteurized cheese, the milk is heated, but only to about 30° C (86° F). This is just enough heat to allow the milk to start fermenting, to eventually become cheese. The bacterial compounds of the cheese are not destroyed, and thus result in a much more flavourful, powerful cheese.

Some industry experts believe that the enzymes in raw milk cheese are healthier and help us digest it easier.

Because there is so much at stake, cheese producers making raw milk cheese need to be very vigilant during the manufacturing process. It is generally the smaller makers of high quality, artisanal cheeses that produce unpasteurized cheese. These producers are doing it for the love of the craft and tradition.

As mentioned earlier, in Europe, they’ve been eating unpasteurized raw milk cheese for centuries.

Pasteurization has only been used since the early 1900s. Before that, all cheese was made from raw milk.

Heat-treated Cheese 

When making heat-treated cheese, the maker heats the milk to approximately 55° C (131° F) for about 15 seconds. 

This method is considered to be a good balance between using pasteurized and unpasteurized milk, as the slow heating is considered enough to kill off any potentially dangerous bacteria, while still leaving most of the complex flavours that would have normally been destroyed at 65° C. 

The rules for selling heat-treated cheeses are the same as the ones applied to unpasteurized cheese. Since the milk hasn't been pasteurized, any cheese made from heat-treated milk must be aged for at least 60 days before being available to buy as well. 

So what are the laws in Canada?

In Canada, domestic or imported unpasteurized cheese is legal to be sold, but must be aged for at least 60 days before retailers are allowed to sell it. By this time, it is considered safe as any potentially harmful bacteria will have died off naturally. 

While this is certainly better than nothing, soft cheeses, such as brie, are at their prime after being ripened for only 20-30 days. This means that most Canadians have never tried authentic versions of these types of cheeses (other than those lucky enough to have tried some while on vacation in Europe).


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