Raw Milk, the Forbidden Fruit

In food on 03/21/2009 at 9:39 am

Our knitting friend has out-foodied us for once, by golly. She subscribes to a secret underground network of raw milk enthusiasts. The stuff is trucked in under the radar and dispersed like molten white gold in an undisclosed location every week. So ilicit, of course we wanted in on the action.

As a birthday gift, the other half procured a half-gallon from said friend last evening. A pre-tasting of raw milk yogurt and kefir were had during the pick-up transaction. We cracked open the milk itself this morning to accompany our cereal. Our resident farmer could not be more thrilled.

Q: What does raw milk taste like?

A: It’s sweeter than regular milk, and takes on the qualities of the farm food the cow eats, a balance of hay and grass, basically, naturally-flavored milk. It’s not going to be as good now as it will be in a couple of months, when they get off their winter feed and start eating fresh green grass. Then, the milk will take on more complex and buttery flavors. The best thing about raw milk is it always tastes different from week to week. It is a living food and should taste different from cow to cow. With organic and pasteurized stuff, the farmers try to make it taste the same, the standard milk flavor.

Q: So how illegal is it to buy or consume?

A: Technically, if you own the cow, you can buy it. In some places, you buy a share in the cow, you are part-owner, so the farmers can bring your weekly supply. Your payment goes toward upkeep of your very own milk-making machine. It’s not illegal to consume. You could drive out to the farm and buy it there. The legal issues come lack of safety inspection for potential pathogens, something required for pasteurized retail milk.

Q: How safe is raw milk?

A: Raw milk, if coming from cows that eat primarily grass and hay, is healthier and safer than grain-fed conventional, pasteurized milk. When cows eat mostly grain, their digestive system changes and becomes more similar to human systems. Then, any bacteria that isn’t killed in the pasteurization process could make us sick. Raw milk from grass-fed cows doesn’t have that problem – the milk then has natural antibiotic properties that help protect it from pathogenic bacteria, making it safer for us too. It’s very similar to all those “pro-biotic” yogurts that are now being advertised.

Raw milk is also actually cleaner to drink than pasteurized. The former goes straight from udder to bottle. The latter can have bacteria, feces, etc that could be in the container or conveyer belt. It’s just been boiled at such a high temperature that it doesn’t matter. But do you really want to be drinking fecal shakes for breakfast? While raw milk can be contaminated by poor processing and handling, the same problem holds true for pasteurized. It’s a moral hazard, the classic economic conundrum. Do you take more precautions because you’re not going to zap out the bugs or be more careless because you are going to kill the milk?

That’s in effect what you’re doing when you pasteurize, murdering all the nice natural yogurt-making bacteria in the milk. Conventional yogurts have special uniform bacterial colonies added later. The raw kefir is more tart and sour. Tang enthusiasts required. The raw plain yogurt is excellent because it has natural flavor, the regular stuff doesn’t. Now can you actually taste the difference? It’s more of a philosophical question, like using slow air-derived sourdough vs. fast rise yeast for bread-making. But if you’re into subtlety and the slightly dangerous cache, then raw milk products are for you.

More info here.

cow juice!

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