What is Unpasteurized Cheese?

Unpasteurized cheese, also known as raw milk cheese, is cheese that is made from milk that has not been pasteurized.

What is Unpasteurized Cheese

Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to high temperatures to kill harmful bacteria.

Many cheeses in the US and Canada are required to be made with pasteurized milk, but some artisanal cheesemakers still use raw milk to make cheese in the traditional way.

How Pasteurization Works

Pasteurization involves heating milk to high temperatures for a short time to kill pathogenic bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses. There are a few different pasteurization methods:

  • Vat pasteurization - Heating milk to 145°F for 30 minutes
  • High-temperature, short-time (HTST) - Heating milk to 162°F for 15 seconds
  • Ultra-pasteurization (UP) - Heating milk to 280°F for 2 seconds

The most common method for cheesemaking is HTST, which heats the milk enough to kill bacteria but preserves more flavor than UP.

Key Takeaway: Pasteurization uses heat to kill harmful bacteria in milk before making cheese.

Why Pasteurize Milk?

Raw milk may contain dangerous bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and Campylobacter. While some argue that raw milk has beneficial probiotics, pasteurization is considered necessary by health agencies to protect against serious illness or death.

Here are some of the risks with raw milk:

  • Bacteria - Milk comes directly from cows and can easily be contaminated. Pasteurization kills 99.999% of bacteria.
  • Allergens - Heating milk denatures milk proteins that cause allergies in some people. Raw milk retains these allergens.
  • Enzymes - Enzymes like lactase are reduced during pasteurization. Those with lactose intolerance may have difficulty digesting raw milk.
  • Outbreaks - Raw dairy caused 96% of milkborne disease outbreaks from 2007-2012 in the US.

While some prefer the taste of raw milk, health agencies consider pasteurization necessary to protect public health.

The 60-Day Rule for Cheese

In 1949, the US FDA established the requirement that cheese made from raw milk must be aged for at least 60 days before sale. This 60-day aging period allows time for dangerous bacteria to die off naturally.

The 60-day rule affects these groups:

  • Fresh cheese - Cheeses like mozzarella, ricotta, and feta must be made from pasteurized milk since they are not aged.
  • Soft cheese - Brie and camembert must be pasteurized unless aged over 60 days, which changes their texture.
  • Hard cheese - Cheddar and gouda can be made from raw milk since they are aged over 60 days.
  • Blue cheese - Roquefort and stilton can use raw milk if they are aged.

This rule attempts to balance food safety with traditional cheesemaking methods that use raw milk for flavor. Overall, pasteurization of all dairy products remains the recommended standard for public health.

Key Takeaway: The 60-day aging rule for cheese allows raw milk varieties as long as potentially harmful bacteria have time to die off.

Why Make Raw Milk Cheese?

While pasteurization is considered necessary for safely, some artisan cheesemakers still use raw milk for tradition and flavor. Here are some of the main reasons raw milk cheese persists:


In many European regions like France, using raw milk is part of the traditional process for making cheeses like camembert, livarot, and comté. Many argue these iconic cheeses lose some of their essence when pasteurized. Cheesemakers wishing to follow ancestral practices may use raw milk.


The high heat of pasteurization alters or reduces some flavors in the milk. Raw milk cheeses can have more complex, grassy, nutty, and earthy flavors. Some describe raw milk cheese as being more "alive".


Heating can change the structure of the milk proteins and fats. Delicate curds used to make lactic cheeses may be easier to achieve with raw milk.


Raw milk contains a complex mix of bacteria and enzymes that contribute to unique flavors as the cheese ages. Pasteurization eliminates most natural cultures.


For some small farmers or artisans, raw milk cheese is a point of pride in making cheese with traditional methods passed down through generations. Their consumers trust traditional practices.

However, the risks of raw milk also apply to cheese. While pasteurization may change flavor, many excellent cheeses are made with treated milk. But tradition and preference for raw milk flavors keeps some cheesemakers from adopting modern food safety practices.

Which Cheeses are Made with Raw Milk?

Given the 60-day rule in the US, harder cheeses are most likely to be made from raw milk. Some examples include:

  • Cheddar
  • Aged gouda
  • Parmesan
  • Manchego
  • Alpine styles like gruyère, comté, appenzell
  • Blue cheeses like stilton, roquefort, gorgonzola

Fresh or soft cheeses are required to use pasteurized milk. However, you may find some raw milk cheeses in specialty shops or abroad:

The key is to read the label or ask your cheesemonger. Raw milk cheeses may be prominently advertised as "raw milk" or "unpasteurized". Otherwise, it is safest to assume a cheese has been pasteurized.

Raw Milk Cheese Safety for Pregnant Women

Pregnant women face higher risks from foodborne pathogens. The CDC recommends pregnant women avoid raw milk products, including all soft, semi-soft, and molded raw milk cheeses like brie and camembert.

Aged raw milk cheeses are lower risk if they have been aged over 60 days by FDA standards. However, many obstetricians still advise pregnant women to avoid all raw milk products as an extra precaution.

If you are unsure, it is always advisable to choose pasteurized cheese while pregnant. Manufacturers must prove the 60-day aging to the FDA, while that may not be verifiable for a cheese you purchase. In general, pasteurized cheese is widely available and the safest choice.

Buying Raw Milk Cheese

In the US, the sale of raw milk is illegal across state lines, so you may only find raw milk cheeses produced locally in states that allow it. Only 28 states permit raw milk sales in some form, under strict conditions for animal health and testing.

Intrastate sales, farmer's markets, and farm stands may offer raw milk cheese from local producers in states that allow raw milk. But very few of these small raw milk producers will be aging cheese for 60 days.

Your best source for legal raw milk cheeses will be specialty cheese shops. The cheeses should come from states like Wisconsin that explicitly permit raw milk cheese aged over 60 days. The cheesemonger should be able to verify if a cheese has been properly aged.

As always, imported cheeses must meet FDA 60-day aging rules. Look for labels identifying raw milk and degrees of aging when shopping for these cheeses.

Is Raw Milk Cheese Safe?

While traditional practices of raw milk cheesemaking have survived for centuries, modern understanding of food safety does not consider any unpasteurized dairy as inherently safe. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Pathogens in raw milk can still persist after 60 days of cheese aging and may sicken vulnerable populations.
  • Improper aging conditions could fail to eliminate harmful bacteria in raw milk cheeses.
  • Recontamination is still possible after aging through handling, storage, transport, and selling.
  • Not all raw milk cheesemakers follow strict safety protocols for animal health, sanitation, employee health, and aging conditions.
  • The CDC data shows raw dairy continues to cause more foodborne outbreaks than pasteurized products.

The risks depend greatly on the individual producer's practices. While some raw milk cheeses may be deliciously safe most of the time, there is no guarantee. For vulnerable groups and cautious consumers, pasteurized cheese remains the recommended choice.


Is it legal to make raw milk cheese in the US?

Yes, raw milk cheese aged over 60 days is legal to sell in the US under FDA regulations. However, many states prohibit raw milk sales.

What is the best raw milk cheese?

Some famous cheeses made with raw milk include cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and French mountain styles like Comté. However, pasteurized versions may be just as good.

Is Swiss cheese raw milk?

Some Swiss cheese like Emmental are often made with raw milk. ButSwiss cheese sold in the US will be made from pasteurized milk unless it is specifically labeled as raw milk and aged over 60 days.

Can raw milk cheese make you sick?

Yes, raw milk products including cheese may contain pathogens that cause food poisoning. Outbreaks of campylobacter, E. coli, listeria, and salmonella have been linked to raw milk cheese.

Do I need to refrigerate raw milk cheese?

Yes, it is important to keep all cheese refrigerated at 40°F or less to prevent pathogen growth. Follow all storage guidance from the producer. Extra aging does not make raw milk cheese safe at room temperature.

Can I eat Brie if I'm pregnant?

Pregnant women should avoid all raw milk cheese, including soft cheeses like Brie. A pasteurized-milk Brie should be safe, but check labels closely and confirm pasteurization.


While raw milk cheese continues traditions dating back thousands of years, modern food safety standards moved to pasteurization to eliminate the risks of pathogens.

Raw milk cheese aged 60+ days tries to strike a balance between safety and traditional practices.

However, health agencies still consider all raw dairy products inherently risky compared to pasteurized options, especially for vulnerable groups like pregnant women and children.

AGAH Productions
AGAH Productions