Saturday, March 20, 2010

Farm-Fresh Friday: Raw Milk

Now that spring is here, 'tis the season for sweet fresh milk - straight from the cow (or goat), unprocessed, just as nature intended it!

If you're horrified by the idea of unpasteurized milk, let me point out the difference between farm and factory. In a factory farm, dairy cows are crammed into a modified feedlot, fed on a diet rich in corn. Ruminants like cows did not evolve to eat grain, so while the corn does boost their milk production, it also makes them vulnerable to the diseases that fester in the filthy conditions. The corn in their diet is rounded out with cheap non-food fillers, which not only abuses the cows but also makes the milk taste nasty. (This is why no one pours a glass of milk to drink anymore.) On a good farm, on the other hand, a manageable number of cows will live on grass (or hay in winter), soaking up the sunshine and clean fresh air that keeps them healthy.

Science has discovered that two weeks of a grass diet completely eliminates E. coli from a sick cow's digestive tract. Yep, all of it. No further processing needed on the E. coli front. But of course it's better if they don't get sick in the first place.

Pasteurization, therefore, is necessary in a factory system where the milk is diseased, infectious, and full of nastiness you really don't want to read about over breakfast. This is why mandatory pasteurization almost immediately followed the birth of the modern corn-based feedlot. It is not so necessary with farm-fresh milk. What's worse, pasteurization destroys vital nutrients and robs the milk of almost all of its health benefits.

Remember when every other kid didn't have asthma or lethal allergies? I know, those days seem more and more like ancient history, writ with every kindergartener's EpiPen. But it appears as though raw milk boosts the immune system better than anything out there, preventing or even curing allergies, asthma, and other immune disorders. It has other benefits too - you can read about them here.*

If you're lactose intolerant and think you can't drink milk, surprise! Raw milk has an enzyme built into it, called lactase, which helps to break down lactose; this enzyme is replicated in the Lactaid product you get at the store. Pasteurization destroys milk's natural lactase, but it's there in raw milk and it will do the work of breaking down lactose so you can digest it easily. Many people who are intolerant to pasteurized milk can drink raw milk without a problem.

"But I don't like milk," you say. If I may say so, you haven't had milk until you've had it raw. The flavor is so much sweeter; it tastes like rich, creamy sunshine. I love the joy of getting up the morning after we make our milk buy, and the cream sits in a thick layer in the top of the jar, with the smooth milk underneath it. I like the fresh cream in my coffee, but it's also good to cook into desserts and occasionally I make cultured butter with it. My husband and I like to drink the milk itself after a workout - it's got just the right combination of proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates to rebuild our muscles and replenish our energy.

To answer a common question, raw milk usually keeps in the refrigerator for a week or two. When it starts to turn and it's not good to drink anymore, you can still use it. Pasteurized milk goes rancid, but raw milk just cultures with the beneficial bacteria living in it (those "probiotics" you hear so much about). You can make sour cream or creme fraiche from the cream, and from the milk you can make yogurt or kefir. You can cook with it in soups when it starts to go off, or bake with it as you would buttermilk. Yesterday I used up some slightly-off raw milk in a cheesy sauce for cauliflower au gratin. So unlike processed milk, there's no waste with living milk!

If you thought raw milk was illegal, you can be excused for thinking that. In most areas, however, it isn't. Availability varies by state (and country). In some areas, you can buy it in certain stores; in most areas, you have to purchase it directly from the farm. Many farms cater to buying clubs, where members take turns making the drive out to the farm to bring the milk into town so everyone can pick it up locally. We just enjoy a pleasant drive to the country every week or so; it takes about an hour to make the trip, and the scenery is gorgeous.

You can find out where to buy raw milk at this link.

As for the other common objection - yes, it costs a little more. But at what price your health? My grandmother always says she'd rather have a big grocery bill than a big doctor bill, and it really does work out to be one or the other. In the 1950's we spent about 19% of our income on groceries and about 9% on health care; today those proportions are almost exactly reversed. There is a direct correlation between one and the other, and besides, healthy food is more delicious anyway. I know I'd rather spend my money on sweet, fragrant, tasty milk and farm-fresh foods than asthma inhalers (which I used to shell out $150/month for and now no longer need).

So find a farm near you, preferably one with Jersey cows because the milk is richer and more filling. (We only need 4 oz at a time when we drink it.) Then pour yourself a nice glass of living, probiotic, nutrient-dense milk and toast: To Your Health!

* (Of course there are some who are so immunocompromised or have other issues which preclude the consumption of untreated animal products, so avoid them if this is you, but the trick is to avoid getting into that situation in the first place whenever possible.)


  1. My step-dad, a farmer, used to bring home a big bucket of raw milk from work when I was younger. We would decant it into 2 jugs which sat in the fridge and then the next day he would bring some more. It was the nicest milk in the world ever. My sister only liked milk in tea or on cereal, my mum couldn't drink it because the creaminess upset her colitis, so it was divided between me and my step-dad and I would literally drink glasses and glasses of the stuff - bliss! Sadly regulations came in (I am not sure what exactly but probably some health-police issue) which meant he wasn't allowed to do it anymore. Which makes me sad :(

  2. tastes like rich creamy sunshine?? im gunna go found me a cow...