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Repastol project: on cheese, microbes, and humans

Spurred by an international research consortium focused on issues associated with raw milk cheeses, the multidisciplinary project Repastol questions whether pasteurisation is truly a universal solution for guaranteeing the safety of dairy products. To this end, Repastol seeks to highlight the richness and potential of systems for producing raw milk cheeses, both in France and elsewhere in the world.

Repastol project: on cheese, microbes, and humans © Julien Lagarde@Flikr
By Aurélie Coen, translated by Jessica Pearce
Updated on 04/23/2018
Published on 03/26/2018

"Agrofood systems based on raw milk: re-examining pasteurisation” is the full name of the Repastol project (2015–2017), funded by the INRA-CIRAD metaprogramme Glofoods. It is run by Geneviève Teil (INRA) and Claire Cerdan (CIRAD). Repastol has brought together researchers from the biotechnological sciences (technology and microbiology) and the social sciences (geography, sociology, anthropology, economy, and law) who work in different areas in Europe (France, Italy), Australia, the US, and the Global South (Brazil, Morocco, India).
The project's first goal was to take stock of the different systems used across the globe to produce raw milk cheeses. The second goal was to develop a diagnostic approach for assessing the health risks and risk management strategies associated with alternative cheesemaking practices (i.e., those employing no pasteurisation). The third goal was to evaluate the consequences of such alternative practices on production systems and food diversity.

To cap off its three years of work, the Repastol project has created a documentary summarising its results. The film is entitled: "On cheese, microbes, and humans." Researchers discovered that cheesemakers working with raw milk are still sometimes required to add ferments in order to restore the microbial community that is needed to transform the milk into cheese. What has happened? Do such industrial ferments, which have extremely low biodiversity, manage to successfully restore natural microbial communities? Does this issue impact the diversity of cheeses available to consumers? Does it limit the ability of producers to differentiate themselves qualitatively? Finally, what are the international regulations governing ferment use? This documentary also raises questions about the future of artisan cheesemakers and traditional cheesemaking practices.
Travel across the world—from France to Australia, Morocco, and India—to explore the history of cheese; diverse cheese production and ripening methods; and the regulations governing cheesemaking.

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