Meet My Milk
Every few weeks or so, I drive about an hour–don’t worry, on biodiesel!–to a beautiful little farm outside of Portland, to buy some fresh, raw milk for my kefir making. (When I say fresh, I mean fresh. The farm I visit sells only the milk they’ve bottled within the past three days.) This is one of the beautiful girls who kindly shares her wonderful milk with me.
Or maybe I should be thanking this sweet baby for sharing what’s rightfully his milk!
I’m not going to share the name of this farm. In Oregon, regulations for farms that sell raw milk are extremely stringent—absolutely no advertising of raw milk sales is allowed, and I’m afraid that a blog post featuring the farm and talking about the benefits of raw milk might be construed as advertising. So I’m going to leave them anonymous.
We’re lucky, though. In a lot of states, you’re not allowed to sell or buy raw milk at all.
Let me be clear, now, that I’m not an enemy of pasteurization per se. Louis Pasteur was doing a wonderful thing when he invented pasteurization! Industrial farming practices were starting to take hold. Germ theory was still controversial. Dairy products were not clean, and pasteurization made milk safer.
And it still makes milk safer, because our dairy products are still dirty. Have you ever been to a commercial dairy farm? Because I have. They are dirty, stinky places, and I would not drink raw milk from one in a million, billion years. (In fact, I try to avoid pasteurized milk from places like that, too.)
But this milk is different. If you’re familiar with farming, you’d recognize the second you stepped on the farm I visit that it is exceptionally clean. It doesn’t smell like manure. The cows are clean; their skin, feet and udders are healthy. The milking parlor is always freshly swept and every surface washed down regularly. The owner of the farm showed me, on my first visit, how they test every part of the cows’ udders for harmful bacteria prior to milking, and test the milk for microbes as well (any milk that tests positive, or milk from a positive-testing cow, is fed to the farm’s chickens rather than passed on to human patrons.) The cows eat a diet of fresh grass, which serves to minimize their bacterial load in the first place.
I feel 100% safe drinking the kefir I make from this milk. I would feel 100% safe feeding this milk to my children, and plan to do so, someday. I think it’s absurd that, in this day and age, in which thousands of people have gotten food poisoning from pasteurized milk, in which spinach and raw tomatoes have made hundreds of people sick because of the high e. coli count in the manure that’s used to fertilize the plants, in which millions of people are dying of heart disease and cancer caused by the processed food products that grocery stores and restaurants all over the country peddle, the government still makes it incredibly difficult (and in many places, impossible) to buy the fresh raw milk that many people want.
But why do we want raw milk? From the research I have done, I believe that clean raw milk from healthy cows (two caveats so important as to be essential) has health benefits significantly superior to those of pasteurized milk. Several recent studies (and a plethora of anecdotal evidence) back this up, although further research is certainly needed. If you Google “raw milk”, you’ll find a lot of information–and a lot of hype. Some will have you believe that raw milk is the magic cure-all to everything that ails you, and the FDA will tell you that raw milk is nothing but poison, poison, poison, a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode deadly bacteria all over you! The truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle. I’d urge you to do some research and consider switching to raw milk, if you have access to it. This 2007 Salon.com article explores both positions in a fairly evenhanded, sensible way (despite its sensationalistic tag line.)
One thing that should invite no controversy is that raw milk simply tastes better. (Ask any fromagier.) The fresh, buttery flavor is unparalleled. And I love knowing that when I drink this milk, I can feel good about the health and well-being of the animals that made it, the farming practices that are far gentler on the environment than any major dairy operation, and the nutrient content of the milk that’s better for my health, too. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to store-bought milk.