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A Guide to Buying the Best Cheeses: Raw, Aged, 100% Grass-fed, A2-A2

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What is life without cheeses? I mean, really, I know you get me. Your own affection for the world’s greatest food has to be similar to mine because cheese is the GOAT, and everyone knows it. As a health-conscious person on a nuanced journey of cultivating sustainable nutrition for myself and my family, I have been through many seasons without my favorite food….and you didn’t want to know me then.

As with most foods in our modern era of grocery-store convenience, several cheese options exist – processed, conventional, organic, cow/sheep/goat/vegan, grass-fed, A2-A2, raw, and aged – to name a few. If you’ve found yourself on this blog, I assume you’re not the average consumer; you know a thing or two about nutrition, you likely eat an animal-based diet, and I needn’t waste time on explaining how the first two listed options (+vegan) are – in my book – no option at all if you’re interested in health and nutrient-dense foods. So let’s move on to the information that just might make a believer out of you that cheese, wonderful CHEESE, can quite possibly make a comeback in to your anti-inflammatory diet. And to that, I say from experience, “Welcome back, YOU!”

What is organic cheese, and is it worth the label?

How do I put this? If you can include dairy in your diet without irritation and find yourself in a perilous situation without farm-fresh options available, then organic cheese is certainly better than conventional brands. Thankfully, the market has improved in its options, and organic cheese has become quite available. But, it is indeed – conventional. Let’s just say it’s basic and usually still highly processed. While it may provide a ‘cleaner’ element using milk made from organically farmed cows without growth hormones and antibiotics, there are nutritionally superior options for the true health seeker. These cattle are usually fed grains, and the cheeses available commercially are often sourced from numerous farms. So, to answer the question as directly as I can, I’d say no, organic cheese is not worth the label unless you’ve rehabbed your gut, you’re a cheese addict like me, and occasionally may choose this option in a pinch with minimal choices.

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What is Grass-fed cheese?

Cheeses made exclusively from grass-fed dairy will bear this label, and because the grass is the native diet of the animals making milk for cheese, it naturally ranks above the organic options. Studies have shown it to be more nutritionally dense, touting more vitamins A, D, B-12, omega-3 fatty acids, and CLA. Grass-fed dairy also inherently contains a more optimal omega 3 to omega 6 ratio (4:1 or less, compared to 7:1 or more in conventional options). As a mega fan of USWM, I love how they state on the website how “the best cheeses in the world begin with the best milk, and the best milk comes from the healthiest cows”. More on that in a minute, but first one last additional plug for grass-fed cheese. A cow’s system is developed to digest grasses, not grains, and when cattle consume grains their stomachs become more acidic. This creates an environment hospitable to acid-resistant bacteria like E.coli, which can pass to the end consumer.

What does it mean when a cheese is labeled as ‘raw’ and ‘aged’?

As we climb the ladder of labels to the King of Cheeses, we must stop to learn about these two important ones indicating process (versus sourcing). Raw cheese is made with pure, unheated/untreated milk and then aged over time to eliminate any bad bacteria. Surprisingly, this process still retains all the incredible probiotics present in the raw milk. While an aged cheese can be made using commercially treated milk, all raw milk cheese must be aged in the US. The aging process cures the raw milk cheese to the flavorful perfection that artisanal cheesemakers (and consumers) start cults over.

What is all the hype over A2/A2 cheese?

Do you see me? I’m wobbling towards the top of that ladder, getting closer and closer to the Mac Daddy of all cheeses, but let’s steady ourselves for one last label breakdown. Cheese using the coveted A2/A2 label is made using a variety of milk (from a variety of cows) that produces only the A2 protein (versus A1 beta-casein). A2 milk may be easier to digest, especially for those whose bodies don’t tolerate the A1 protein. While lactose intolerance is another matter entirely, the rise of A2 milk in recent years has allowed many dairy-avoiders to gain insight into the more accurate source of their issues and ‘come home’ again to include our favorite culinary comforts.

a2/a2 cheeses raw grassfed lykens valley creamery

So, how do we meet the King?

By far the healthiest and tastiest options in cheese is a brand that lists ALL of the above labels – 100% grass-fed/finished, raw, aged, and A2/A2. They are organic OR commit to using sustainable farming practices and use no antibiotics, supplemental feeds, or other industrial practices that ruin the nutrients and flavor of the cheese.

Hesitant dairy consumer, meet Lykens Valley Creamery. Yes, I do believe a genuflect is in order, but let me climb back down this ladder to solid ground before I do just that…then dance like a maniac in my kitchen (where dancing happens) because life is enriched and delightful once more! Lykens Valley Creamery offers ‘all the things’ in their impressive lineup of options – all sold and shipped to your door via USWM.

Yes, most of the time, we must go out of our way to meet the King, but reading this blog to the end is your sweet pilgrimage to finding farm-fresh royalty delivered straight to where you’re sitting right now – no need to get up. Boom. Need I say more? How about some wholesome family meals that add that decadence of CHEESE again? You’ll be your kids’ hero, trust me. How about a grass-fed beef taco bowl seasoned to perfection using freshly shredded Lykens Valley mild (or jalapeño) cheddar, diced heirloom tomato, avocado, and crisp romaine served over some grain-free tortilla chips? Or, a broiled open-faced toastie on homemade spelt sourdough bread with grass-fed butter, a thick slice of havarti, some shaved pastrami, and a slice of garden tomato? Nummers?! Other cheese flavors offered by Lykens Valley and USWM include gouda, Monterey jack, farmers cheese, Colby, or unsalted cheddar – all available online now and shipped to you as early as tomorrow.

And to this end, I raise a glass to your new life because with cheese it is wonder-FULL again. You’re welcome, YOU. Cheers.

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Kate Brown

Katy Brown, BSHN

Katy has a Human Food and Nutrition degree and almost 20 years of experience in various health and wellness roles. In 2020, she shifted her focus to prioritize family life. She follows a balanced, intuition-driven approach to food and enjoys investing in projects that promote health and explore ancient wisdom. As a homeschooling wife and mother of 3 (with one on the way at 42!), she spends her time on freelance writing and cultivating a simple life at her urban homestead in Des Moines, IA.