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Farmers’ Market Cheese Buying Tips

It’s almost startling to say, but winter is almost upon us. Advertisements for the holiday season are popping up everywhere, college campuses are preparing to close for Thanksgiving break, and it’s now dark before 5pm on most nights. One of the saddest parts of this is that farmers’ markets will soon be closing for the winter, and none of us will have access to fresh, delicious produce until early spring.

Farmers’ Markets have grown increasingly popular in the past few years. They’re a wonderful way to support small, local businesses, and get produce that is probably fresher than what you would get in most major grocery stores. Plus, those who are selling you food know the product very well, so you’ll know what you’re getting. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t risks.

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of An Organic Wife

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of An Organic Wife

One of the biggest issues with buying cheese in a farmers’ market is the milk it comes from. It is important to make sure that the cheese you are buying comes from pasteurized milk, particularly if you are pregnant, elderly, or have a weaker immune system. Raw milk can carry microorganisms like Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, all of which can pose serious health risks to those exposed to it. Any cheese can be made from raw milk, but it is those that are young that are young that pose the greater risk of bad bacteria. Currently, cheeses aged at least 60 days are considered to be safe by the FDA, even if they are made with raw milk. Before you purchase cheese from a farmer’s market, be sure to check the label to make sure it comes from pasteurized milk or that it has been aged a minimum of 60 days. 

This is another major tip about buying cheese from a farmers’ market: communication. If you have any questions about the product, talk to the farmer about it. They know their product, and should be more than happy to help you. If they’re not, or it seems like they don’t know the answers you’re looking for, that’s a good sign to take your business elsewhere.

Another thing to take note of is the temperature of the food. According to the University of Maine, anywhere between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit can be a risky temperature to leave food out, and any perishable food item left out in these conditions for more than two hours is considered unsafe to eat. Similarly, if it’s a food that should be kept cold – like milk, for example – and you don’t see it in a cooler, don’t buy it.

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Sonoma uncorked.

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Sonoma Uncorked.

A third issue to take note of, and this is a basic but pretty important one, is sanitation. Farmers can have hand-washing stations, but can also wear gloves, and sanitize after shaking your hand or petting an animal. If they’re giving out free samples, they should be served in individual packages, and with sanitary utensils. All of these are good signs that the person you’re buying from is making sure their area is sterile.

As a side, if the farmer is taking such effort to keep their area clean for you, please provide them with the same courtesy. Wash your hands before you start perusing, and don’t touch something and put it back. Sanitation is hugely important for the success of farmers’ markets, so please do your part.

On the whole, farmers’ markets are great. It’s wonderful that they are growing in popularity, and should continue to grow in popularity. Try your best to check out your local farmers’ market before it gets too cold, but when you do, just be mindful of these tips. For more on safely purchasing foods at a farmers’ market, check out this article from Food Safety.

Photo Credit: Featured image courtesy of Wally Gobetz via Flickr

Amanda Doughty

Amanda Doughty considers cheese to be an essential part of her upbringing, as her family owns Anthony's Italian Kitchen, an Italian restaurant in Portland, Maine. Currently she studies creative writing at Emerson, where she is considered an outcast for refusing to touch the disgusting pizza in the Dining Hall. She admits that is a bit of a food snob, especially when it comes to pizza and cheese.