You may have heard stories about people going to France, eating some raw milk cheese, and getting sick. While it doesn’t happen regularly, it’s still a risk, and it all comes down to the consumption of raw milk. In order to kill off pathogens like listeria and E. coli, milk needs to be pasteurized, and some states have banned the retail sale of raw milk; the FDA has also banned the shipment of raw milk products for human consumption across state lines, with one exception: raw milk cheese that’s been aged a minimum of 60 days. Why 60 days?
The 60 Days Rule was implemented in 1949, under the belief that 60 days was a long-enough period to allow the salt and acids in cheese to kill off any pathogens. This is actually a rather arbitrary number, and it was agreed upon with little to no scientific evidence backing it. The fact of the matter is, if a cow is held in unsanitary conditions and has an illness or udder infection, there are going to be pathogens in its milk, and therefore its cheese, whether it’s fresh or aged for a couple months. Nowadays, the cows that are producing the milk we drink and the cheese we eat are kept in clean-enough environments that there’s little to be afraid of, but there’s still an increased risk of being sickened.
What does this all mean? Basically, we wouldn’t advise drinking unpasteurized milk because there’s a 150 percent higher chance that it will make you sick than pasteurized milk. As for cheese, the cows producing the fine artisanal unpasteurized camembert at Parisian cheese shops (as well as the high-quality artisanal raw milk cheeses sold in America) are healthy as can be, because cheesemakers simply aren’t willing to risk sickening their customers. But again, there’s still a slight risk that it will make you sick.
When milk is heated to high temperatures before being turned into cheese, it loses many of the most delicate and complex flavor components, and essentially “kills” the cheese. If you find yourself in France and want to sample that deliciously runny raw fresh cheese, you might as well go for it, unless you’re pregnant or have a compromised immune system.