Raw Milk and Cheese Are Undergoing a Renaissance as Artisanal Foods Rise in Popularity

Story at-a-glance

  • As organic foods have risen in popularity, artisanal foods like raw organic cheese and milk are also undergoing a renaissance
  • PBS “Food Forward” episode addresses the problems of over processing, and stresses the importance of raw milk as long as it’s done correctly
  • Raw milk and cheese have been wrongly demonized as hazardous, primarily by the conventional dairy industry and those who do not understand the health benefits of ‘live’ foods


This is an older article that may not reflect Dr. Mercola’s current view on this topic. Use our search engine to find Dr. Mercola’s latest position on any health topic.

By Dr. Mercola

As organic foods have risen in popularity, so-called artisanal foods like raw organic cheese and milk are also undergoing a renaissance. More and more, people are recognizing that the industrialization of our food system has dramatically reduced the quality of our food.

Not only are foodborne diseases most commonly linked to processed food,1 there's also the issue of toxic exposures from herbicides and pesticides. Organic and sustainably grown foods are safer in both regards, and they can be more nutrient-dense as well.

This is particularly true for raw milk, as pasteurization destroys many valuable nutrients and enzymes in the milk. Cows raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) also tend to be less healthy due to crowded and unsanitary living conditions, which reflects on the milk they produce.

Food Forward

The video above is part of a 2014 PBS series called "Food Forward,"2,3 which takes a look at what's wrong with our industrialized food system, and what we can do to improve it — and our health. Returning to time-honored sustainable practices such as raising dairy cows on pasture is part of this solution.

This particular segment focuses on dairy farming, and features organic farmers who pride themselves on the quality of their raw milk, cheese, and ice-cream. It addresses the problems of over processing, and stresses the importance and benefits of raw milk as long as it's done correctly.

As noted by food science professor and chemist Bruce German, Ph.D., food production has been driven for the past several decades by a quantity model.

The idea has been to make more, and make it cheap, and the motto among farmers became "Get big, or get out." But there are ramifications of such a mindset, and quality is almost universally sacrificed when you go big and cheap.

Farmers like those featured in PBS' program are not as concerned with size as they are with quality — and with flavor. When it comes to cheese, part of the secret lies in the aging process, during which the richness of flavor is produced.

Raw Milk Has Been Wrongfully Demonized

Unfortunately, raw milk and cheese have been wrongly demonized as hazardous — primarily by the conventional dairy industry and those who do not understand the health benefits of 'live' foods.

Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn that raw milk can carry disease-causing bacteria — completely ignoring and overlooking the fact that these bacteria are the result of industrial farming practices that lead to diseased animals.

Research4 by board certified pathologist Ted Beals, M.D. shows you're actually 35,000 times more likely to get sick from other foods than you are from raw milk. An investigation by Mark McAfee, CEO of Organic Pastures Dairy, which included a FOIA request to the CDC for data on deaths claimed to be related to raw milk revealed: 5

  • There have been no reported deaths from raw milk in California
  • The two deaths the CDC lists as being related to raw milk were actually due to illegal Mexican bathtub cheese, and not raw milk produced in the U.S.
  • The last people to die from milk died from contaminated pasteurized milk
  • According to a Cornell study performed on CDC data, 1,100 illnesses were linked to raw milk between 1973 and 2009. Meanwhile, 422,000 illnesses were caused by pasteurized milk. While no one died from raw milk, there were at least 50 deaths from pasteurized milk or pasteurized cheese

To Be Safe, Raw Dairy Cows Must Be Raised on Pasture

That said, it's important to understand that in order for raw milk to be healthy and safe it must come from healthy organically raised cows that graze on pasture. Drinking unpasteurized milk from cows raised in a CAFO can be extremely dangerous and is not recommended under any circumstance.

The reason for this discrepancy has to do with the differences in the way the cows are raised and fed. A cow's natural diet is primarily grass. When a cow eats grains in a CAFO instead of the grasses they were designed to eat three adverse events happen:

  1. The cow becomes acidotic (acidic) as a result of using glucose from the grains as their primary fuel rather than short chain fatty acids derived from the non-digestible fibers in the grasses
  2. It becomes over-protonated, which harms the cow's kidneys. As a result, the cow can only provide milk for 1.7 lactations, which is 44 months, after which they get slaughtered
  3. Grain can contain mold mycotoxins that can make the animal sick

CAFO animals are also typically given a variety of drugs that can affect the composition and safety of their milk. Since they're fed grains (typically genetically engineered grains like corn and soy), they're also ingesting toxic herbicides and pesticides that can contaminate the milk.

For all of these reasons, milk from CAFO cows must be pasteurized in order to be safe enough to drink, but as statistics show, this still does not entirely eliminate the risk of illness. That really tells you something about the differences between grass-fed and CAFO milk.

The Benefits of Raw Milk

Grass-fed organic milk tends to be yellowish, not pure white. The coloration comes from the natural antioxidant carotenoids found in the grass, which is a precursor to vitamin A.

When cows are raised on dried grass or hay, opposed to fresh-growing grass, you end up with a whiter product, which is an indication of reduced carotenoid and antioxidant content. Raw milk yogurt is also very thick and creamy compared to pasteurized commercial varieties. 

Interestingly, high quality raw organic milk has its own built in "immune system" of sorts. The elevated white blood cell count in raw milk actually helps reduce your risk of contracting food poisoning. Similarly, the microorganisms found in raw milk cheese effectively limit the growth of potentially harmful organisms.6

Pasteurized milk and cheese do not have this protective quality, which helps explain why they pose a far greater threat than raw milk and cheese when it comes to food poisoning. Pasteurizing milk also destroys enzymes, diminishes vitamins, denatures fragile milk proteins, destroys vitamin B12 and vitamin B6, kills beneficial bacteria, and promotes the growth of pathogens. Meanwhile, raw milk contains:

Healthy bacteria that are beneficial for your gastrointestinal tract

Beneficial raw fats, amino acids, and proteins in a highly bioavailable form, all 100 percent digestible

More than 60 digestive enzymes, growth factors, and immunoglobulins (antibodies). These enzymes are destroyed during pasteurization, making pasteurized milk harder to digest

Vitamins (A, B, C, D, E, and K) in highly bioavailable forms. Also has a balanced blend of minerals (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron) whose absorption is enhanced by live lactobacilli

Phosphatase, an enzyme that aids and assists in the absorption of calcium in your bones, and lipase enzyme, which helps to hydrolyze and absorb fats

Healthy unoxidized cholesterol

High amounts of omega-3 fats while being low in inflammatory omega-6

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has a number of health-promoting benefits, including anti-cancer activity

How to Identify a High-Quality Producer of Raw Milk

While nearly every public health "expert" believes all milk must be pasteurized before it can be safely consumed, it's worth remembering that raw milk was consumed for ages before the invention of pasteurization. It's also important to realize that pasteurization is only really required for certain kinds of milk; specifically that from cows raised in crowded and unsanitary conditions and are fed an unnatural diet that promotes disease, which is what you find in CAFOs. 

It really needs to be pasture-raised, NOT pasteurized. Getting your raw milk from a local organic farm is one of the best ways to ensure you're getting high quality milk. I recommend visiting the farm in person whenever possible. Look around and ask questions, taking note of things such as:

Does the farmer and his family drink the milk themselves?

Can he prove low pathogenic bacteria count (i.e. does the farmer test his milk regularly for pathogens?)

How long has he been producing raw milk?

Is the milk quickly chilled after milking?

Are the cows clean? Are there any obvious sanitation issues?

Does the milk come from cows raised naturally, in accordance with the seasons? Are the cows mainly grass-fed on pasture? If not, when and what are they fed something other than fresh grass?

What conditions are the cows raised in? Are they well cared for?

Are the cows given antibiotics and growth hormones to increase milk production? (Organic standards do not permit this)

Where to Buy Raw Milk, and What to Do if it's Not Legal in Your State

Raw milk and other organic and artisanal products are slowly becoming easier to find, and that's great news. If you're still unsure of where to find raw milk, check out Raw-Milk-Facts.com and RealMilk.com. They can tell you what the status is for legality in your state, and provide a listing of raw dairy farms. The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund7 also provides an up-to-date state-by-state review of raw milk laws.8

California residents can also find raw milk retailers using the store locator available at www.OrganicPastures.com. Other organizations that can help you locate raw and farm-fresh foods include:


Eat Wild provides lists of certified organic farmers known to produce safe, wholesome raw dairy products as well as grass-fed beef and other organic produce.

You can also find information about local farmers markets, as well as local stores and restaurants that sell grass-fed products.

Weston A. Price Foundation

Weston A Price has local chapters in most states, and many of them are connected with buying clubs in which you can easily purchase organic foods, including grass fed raw dairy products like milk and butter.

Grassfed Exchange

The Grassfed Exchange has a listing of producers selling organic and grass-fed meats across the U.S.

Local Harvest

This website will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.

Farmers' Markets

A national listing of farmers' markets.

Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals

The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.

Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA)

CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.


The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.

The Cornucopia Institute

The Cornucopia Institute maintains web-based tools rating all certified organic brands of eggs, dairy products, and other commodities, based on their ethical sourcing and authentic farming practices separating CAFO "organic" production from authentic organic practices.


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