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Bravo Farms Cheese – To Pasteurize or Go Raw that is the Question after $1,500,000 in Losses

Bravo.jpgAccording to Visalia reporter Melina Morales, Bravo Farms is “now pasteurizing” some or all of its cheeses after it was linked to over 30 E. coli O157:H7 illnesses in the Western United States. According to Ms. Morales:

Bravo Farms has begun pasteurizing its cheese because of the contamination incident. When it used raw milk, cheese was aged for 60 days as a more natural barrier to bacteria.

“Now we don’t have to age it as long,” he (Jonathan Van Ryn) said.

He said the pasteurizing process is referred to as “vat” pasteurizing and is different than the method used in large-scale production facilities, taking the cheese to slightly lower temperatures over a longer period of time “to get more of the raw milk flavor.” He said Bravo has not ruled out returning to a pure raw milk process in the future.

Todd Brown of the Fresno Business Journal did not report on Bravo’s conversion to pasteurization, but instead let Van Ryn explain raw milk cheese:

Conventional cheese is made with pasteurized milk that is heated to kill bacteria, but raw cheese is made with unpasteurized milk. For that reason, it must be aged 60 days at 35 degrees or above. As the cheese ages, Van Ryn said its acidity level goes up and salt permeates the block; ideally, all of that kills off potential pathogens.

Robert Rodriguez of the Fresno Bee reported that:

Among the changes Bravo Farms made is pasteurizing the milk for its prized cheddar cheese, along with testing the finished product.

Bravo Farms previously made cheese using raw, unpasteurized milk. Federal law requires raw-milk cheese makers to age their cheese for at least 60 days at a temperature of no more than 35 degrees to eliminate potential bacteria.

Some farmstead cheese makers prefer to use raw milk, saying it gives their products a unique and natural flavor.

Van Ryn said the shift to pasteurization was meant to alleviate concerns from consumers about eating Bravo Farms cheese. And he does not think there is a noticeable taste difference.

“We want people to feel comfortable about our cheese, so we took this added step,” Van Ryn said.

But Van Ryn isn’t ruling out making raw-milk cheese again. And if he does, he will likely increase the aging period and follow up with intensive finished-product testing — a step the company didn’t take before.

The Valley Voice’s Miles Shuper reported that “the company executive estimated shutdown and recall costs at around $1.5 million.”  As for pasteuraztion:

Bravo, which has specialized in making raw-milk cheeses, is now pasteurizing its milk.

Van Ryn said that the pasteurization process has not changed the taste of the company’s artisan-style products, which have won major awards.

So, I think that after suffering $1,500,000 in recall costs, and sickening over 30 with E. coli O157:H7, Bravo is using pasteurized milk to make cheese, but I am not sure it is quite clear.  I’ll remember to ask when they are under oath.

  • Carl Custer

    Starter culture companies have gone far beyond the single strain cultures of decades past. Heck, some will even isolate the primary bugs in your raw milk cheese and provide you with a more reliable and safer “fermentation suite”. That’s far better than “back slopping”, “sour mash”, or “leaving it to God/Cthulhu”.