The French have a real love of cheese. Surveys confirm this passion: 96% of French people say they eat it regularly. And 74% say they can't live without it. At 27 kg per person per year (2020 figure from the Centre National Interprofessionnel de l'Économie Laitière-CNIEL), the French are the 2nd biggest consumers of cheese in the world. Only Denmark beats France to the punch, with two extra kilos!
The cheese-making industry is present in over 80% of France, with 70,000 dairy farms producing over 2 million tonnes of some 1,200 cheeses. Over a third of which is exported.
Among these are raw-milk cheeses, a very French specialty. The term raw milk cheese refers to cheeses made from milk that has not been heated above 40°C, unlike thermized milk cheese, which is heated to between 40 and 72°C for at least 15 seconds prior to manufacture. The most widely consumed cheese in the world is pasteurized, whose milk is heated to over 72°C for less than 15 seconds.
A wide variety of raw milk cheeses The raw milk market accounts for 16% of mature cheeses sold in France, according to the 2019 Annual Dairy Survey. In all, 360 dairies produced some 195,000 tonnes of raw milk cheeses in 2019, while 6,000 farms produced a further 25,000 tonnes in a local, artisanal context.
Consumers are also unanimous about the taste qualities of raw milk cheese. At the SFPL, raw-milk cheeses regularly win awards in the "Coups de Cœur" competition. One example is Barisien à la truffe de la St Jean, winner of the "Coups de Cœur" 2022 award. Or during the "Alliances Insolites" workshops, which combine cheese flavors with other products...
According to the CNIEL, more than 3 out of 5 French people consider raw milk to be an important selection criterion. The best proof of the excellence of raw milk cheeses? Raw milk accounts for 4/5ths of PDO cheeses in France! The leading region for raw milk cheese production is Bourgogne-Franche-Comté with over 102,000 tonnes, followed by Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes with 46,000 tonnes and Occitanie with 20,000 tonnes.
The fact that the milk is only heated to a low temperature makes the microbial flora of raw-milk cheeses particularly interesting. This manufacturing method preserves the micro-organisms naturally present in the milk after the animals have been milked. Microbial flora plays a decisive role in giving cheese its unique taste and typicity.
As with other cheeses, the raw milk market includes cheeses made from sheep's, goat's or cow's milk. With all the great traditional varieties.
- Lactic cheeses: Valençay, Chabichou du Poitou, Picodon...
- Soft cheeses: Camembert de Normandie, Curé Nantais...
- Uncooked pressed cheeses : Reblochon, Laguiole, Tomme de Savoie...
- Blue-veined cheeses: Roquefort, Bleu de Gex Haut-Jura...
- Cooked pressed cheeses: Comté, Beaufort, Emmental: Comté, Beaufort, Emmental.
Exports mainly to the European Union
The export of raw-milk cheeses has not been without controversy in the past, and remains so today, as their delicate texture, based on briefly heated milk, makes them considered potentially hazardous to health.
The European Union authorizes the export of raw milk cheeses. In 1992, a Commission proposal set bacteriological criteria for raw milk to ensure the free circulation of these products while respecting consumer health. According to the European Commission, this decision ensured the continued production of artisan cheeses made from raw milk.
By contrast, the rest of the world remains more circumspect. The United States, for example, bans soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, but allows hard or semi-hard cheeses if ripening time exceeds 60 days. Camembert, Brie and Vacherin are all banned, due to the unacceptable risk of contamination by Listeria monocytogenes. In Australia, special authorization is required from the agricultural health authorities.
During the Salon du Fromage et des Produits Laitiers, sessions are also organized to better understand the tastes of international consumers. This will enable them to export their raw-milk cheeses more effectively.