Group launched to assist EHOs with raw milk cheesemaking concerns
The Specialist Cheesemakers Association (SCA) has launched a new technical group to discuss “areas of concern” with environmental health officers (EHOs) that have raw milk cheesemakers in their area.
Thirty-one EHOs from England, Scotland and Wales joined the first online working group at the end of May, which was chaired by dairy consultant and SCA technical committee member Paul Thomas.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a hostile environment to raw milk cheesemaking in the UK, but there are some EHOs that are wary of raw milk cheeses and can get quite nervous,” he told FFD. “Raw milk cheese poses unique challenges, and we need to demonstrate that safety can be effectively managed.”
The SCA said the group had been set up to discuss “areas of concern, emerging problems and food safety management specific to this type of cheesemaking”, with topics raised at the first meeting including Shiga-toxin-producing E-coli and Bovine TB.
While making cheese with raw milk is legal in the UK, new cheesemakers are sometimes strongly advised to pasteurise their milk by EHOs.
Five Scottish cheesemakers also successfully overturned new Food Standards Scotland guidance on raw milk cheese production in 2019, which they argued would effectively regulate raw milk cheese out of existence in Scotland.
Yorkshire Pecorino made raw milk cheese when it launched 10 years ago, but was swiftly advised to pasteurise by the local EHO.
“They had no experience of cheesemaking in the area, so were very wary,” said owner Mario Olianas, who still uses pasteurised milk today. “They completely discouraged me from using raw milk and I thought it was better to agree.”
Other well-known British cheesemakers have switched from raw milk to pasteurised in recent years including Neal’s Yard Creamery and Norton & Yarrow.
Fraser Norton, co-owner of Norton & Yarrow, who makes Sinodun Hill and Brightwell Ash, told FFD that the decision to pasteurise last year came after encountering a number of low-level issues with the quality of milk being bought in.
This resulted in whole batches of cheese being thrown away.
“It’s very expensive to do that, leaving us with a big hole in our cash flow and affecting consistency of supply,” he said. “It can cost as much as £10,000 to 15,000 when an issue with quality occurs in the milk, which is a huge amount for a small business.”