CBSN

The Death Of Cheese?

Grandmaster Flash speaks during a press conference to announce the launch of The Smithsonian's "Hip-Hop Won't Stop: The Beat, The Rhymes, The Life" at the Hilton Hotel February 28, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Scott Gries
Battle lines are being drawn between cheese-lovers and the Food and Drug Administration, as new questions arise about a food that has been around for over six thousand years.

As CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports, the FDA is turning its attention to aged cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, which contains potentially harmful bacteria. Even though outbreaks of disease have been few, cheese-lovers are losing their appetites over the threat of regulations.

Despite their diversity in shape, size, texture and taste, the world's greatest cheeses have always shared one thing: They are made with raw, unpasteurized milk-- milk that goes straight from the cow to your table, creating flavors that, according to cheese monger Steve Jenkins, only nature could dream up.

"When a cow is grazing," Jenkins says, "it's eating much more than grass. They're eating herbs, wild garlic, wild onions."

But the ingredient for great cheese is also the ingredient for a looming health hazard, say health officials. Food safety expert Mike Doyle of the University of Georgia is concerned. " In the interest of safety, it would be better to totally ban the sale of unpasteurized raw milk cheeses," he says.

Doyle says the problem begins with the livestock. "Cows carry harmful bacteria: salmonella, listeria, e-coli."

To cheese lovers, just the idea of a world of all pasteurized cheese is criminal. To them it would mean the end of a great culture: the runniest, smelliest, tangiest products sanitized into bland, flavorless plastic.

Max McCallum assembles the cheese board at New York's Picholine Restaurant. He believes that imposing pasteurization would turn the best cheeses into endangered species. "They might as well be extinct," he says. "Because they would not smell or taste the same."

So as health officials launch investigations into the world of cheese, a clash of cultures ripens: those concerned about safe food versus those whose passion is savory food.