Pasteurized Cheese vs. Unpasteurized Cheese

Cheese is a beloved food for many people. Its complex flavors and wide variety make it a versatile ingredient in cooking and a tasty addition to charcuterie boards.

Pasteurized Cheese vs. Unpasteurized Cheese

However, there is an ongoing debate about whether cheese made from pasteurized or unpasteurized (raw) milk is better or safer.

What is Pasteurized Cheese?

Pasteurized cheese is made from milk that has been heated to a specific temperature for a set period of time in order to kill harmful bacteria. There are two main pasteurization methods used:

  • High Temperature Short Time (HTST): Heats the milk to 161°F for 15 seconds
  • Low Temperature Long Time (LTLT): Heats milk to 145°F for 30 minutes

Pasteurization does not significantly change the proteins and nutrients in milk. It helps prevent foodborne illnesses from dangerous bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. These bacteria can sometimes be present in raw milk.

The vast majority of cheese sold commercially in the United States is made from pasteurized milk. This includes popular cheeses like cheddar, Swiss, provolone, Monterey Jack, and many more. Some artisanal cheesemakers also choose to use pasteurized milk if they want to reach a wider market.

Key Takeaway: Pasteurization kills harmful bacteria in milk while preserving nutrients. This helps prevent foodborne illness from dangerous pathogens that may be present.

What is Unpasteurized (Raw Milk) Cheese?

Unpasteurized (raw milk) cheese is made from milk that has not gone through the pasteurization process. The milk is simply warmed enough to culture the milk and begin the cheesemaking process. This allows all the natural enzymes and good bacteria in the raw milk to be retained.

Many traditional European cheeses are required to be made from raw milk, including famous types like Parmigiano-Reggiano, some cheddars, Gruyère, and Brie. American artisanal cheesemakers also produce raw milk cheeses to achieve complex, nuanced flavors.

Raw milk does carry a small risk of transmitting bacteria that cause foodborne illness. To balance safety with flavor, the FDA requires all raw milk cheeses to be aged for at least 60 days before sale. This allows enough time for dangerous bacteria to die off naturally.

Key Takeaway: Unpasteurized (raw milk) cheese retains all the natural enzymes and good bacteria from the milk. This allows for deep, complex flavors in the finished cheese.

ParameterPasteurized CheeseUnpasteurized Cheese
Treatment of MilkHeated to kill bacteriaRaw milk used
PurposeFood safetyRetain enzymes and bacteria for flavor
Aging RequirementNone60 days minimum

The Debate Between Pasteurized and Unpasteurized Cheeses

There is disagreement in the cheese world about which type of milk makes a better, safer product. Here are some of the key points made on both sides:

In Favor of Pasteurized Milk:

  • Eliminates risk of dangerous pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella
  • More consistent flavor and texture batch to batch
  • Can be made in high volumes to meet demand
  • Required for cheese sold commercially in the US

In Favor of Unpasteurized (Raw) Milk:

  • Produces more complex, nuanced flavors
  • Retains natural enzymes some believe aid digestion
  • Upholds tradition of many famous European cheeses
  • Aging requirement of 60 days eliminates most bacteria risk

Consumers, cheesemakers, and regulators land on both sides of this debate. However, the consensus seems to be that there is room in the market for both pasteurized and raw milk cheeses, each with their own merits.

How to Choose Between Pasteurized and Unpasteurized Cheeses

As a consumer, it is largely a matter of personal preference whether you opt for pasteurized or raw milk cheese. Here are some factors to consider in your choice:

Food Safety

For those with compromised immune systems, pregnant women, young children, and the elderly, pasteurized cheese is the safer choice. The pasteurization process eliminates concerns about dangerous bacteria.

After 60 days of aging, most experts consider raw milk cheese safe for the general population. However, there is a slight risk of contamination even in aged raw milk cheeses.


Many cheese experts and aficionados prefer the complexity of flavors achieved through raw milk cheesemaking. However, skilled artisans can also produce very flavorful cheeses using pasteurized milk. It comes down to your individual taste preferences.


Pasteurized cheeses are far easier to find at standard grocery stores in the US. Raw milk cheeses may only be available at specialty cheese shops or delis due to FDA regulations. So pasteurized cheeses offer more convenience and options for most consumers.


In general, raw milk cheeses are more expensive to produce and therefore cost more to purchase. If you are on a tight budget, pasteurized cheese may be the economical choice.

As with any food choice, being informed about key differences between pasteurized and raw milk cheeses can help you decide what best fits your needs. Both varieties have their merits and place in the artisanal cheese world.

Key Takeaway: The choice between pasteurized and raw milk cheese depends on factors like safety concerns, flavor preferences, accessibility, and budget for each individual consumer.


Why can some unpasteurized cheeses be sold in the US after 60 days?

The FDA requires raw milk cheeses to be aged for 60 days before sale. This 60-day aging period allows time for dangerous bacteria like Listeria or E. coli to die off naturally as the cheese ages.

Is one type nutritionally better than the other?

There is little nutritional difference between pasteurized and raw milk cheeses. Pasteurization does not significantly impact the nutrient content of the milk. Some claim raw milk is more digestible due to retained enzymes. But there is no evidence pasteurization impacts digestibility or nutrition.

Can I find raw milk cheeses at my local grocery store?

It is unlikely you will find raw milk cheeses at a standard grocery store. Due to FDA regulations, they are usually only found at specialty cheese shops, high-end delis, or artisanal food stores. Pasteurized cheeses make up the vast majority available at common grocers.

What European cheeses are made with raw milk?

Many famous European cheese varieties are required by law to be made from traditional raw milk. These include cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, some cheddars, Gruyère, and Roquefort. Brie and Camembert may also be made from raw milk.

Are raw milk cheeses safe if aged under 60 days?

No, for food safety any cheese produced from raw milk must be aged a minimum 60 days according to FDA regulations. This allows time for dangerous bacteria to die off. Consuming "underaged" raw milk cheese could lead to food poisoning.


The debate over pasteurized vs. unpasteurized (raw) milk cheeses involves balancing complex flavor against safety concerns.

Pasteurization eliminates the risk of pathogens, while using raw milk allows the retention of natural enzymes and bacteria that develop deep, nuanced cheese flavors.

Cheese Lover Chloe 🧀
Cheese Lover Chloe 🧀

I'm a total cheese fanatic! When I'm not busy studying to be a cheesemaker, you can find me scouring local farmers markets and specialty shops for new and exciting cheeses to try. Brie is my all-time fave, but I also love exploring aged goudas, funky blues, and rich creamy camemberts. Looking forward to sharing lots of melty, gooey cheese pics and reviews!