Dairy cows, goats and sheep will stay cheesy in Maryland under a bill presented Thursday.
After a successful five-year pilot program that enabled five dairy farms in Maryland to produce raw milk cheese from cows, goats and sheep, legislators on the Senate Finance Committee were easily in support of changing the program to be a more long-term business opportunity.
The changes to the program include allowing farms to renew their license for cheese production every year, not limiting herd size to 120 animals or fewer and making more than five cheese producer permits available.
State Senator Adelaide C. Eckardt, R-Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico, sponsored the bill presented Thursday, wanting support in “passing this initiative so our dairies can keep selling cheese.”
Raw milk cheese, also known as farmstead cheese, means that the milk used has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Association.
Under proper precautions and frequent health inspector visits, “the farmstead cheese program has proven to be successful,” said Laurie Bucher, chief of the Center for Milk and Dairy Product Safety within the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Holly Foster, owner of the Chapel’s Country Creamery in Easton said her cow farm would lose a quarter of its profits if changes were not made to the farmstead cheese legislation.
“We’re known for our raw milk Bay Blue — we’ve been making it for over four years now,” said Foster. “Our livelihood is on the desk of legislation today.”
Foster said the herd size limit was originally installed to decrease the chances of disease and to keep production to family-owned businesses, but also limited sheep dairy farmers’ cheese production, as sheep produce less milk than cows and goats.
“(These alterations to the original bill) will support the needed diversity in the dairy industry as the dairy industry changes,” Bucher said, including the need to use milk from different animals.