Milk 2: Life is About Choices

DSC_3525100% Grass-fed cows produce wonderful milk.  The only thing better is getting it in its raw, unrefined state.  “Raw?!” you exclaim,  “Isn’t that full of bacteria that can kill you?”  No, actually it isn’t, and recently, in an article published in The Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/PR-CO-20130611-909875.html), milk was named as a low-risk food.

 

“Then what’s the difference?” you ask.

 

            In commercial milk production, the milk goes through two refining processes:  pasteurization and homogenization.  I realize that most people do not consider these processes refining, but what then would they be called?  And if refining flour reduces the nutritional value of the flour, wouldn’t refining the milk do the same thing?

 

            Pasteurization is the process of heating the milk to remove dangerous pathogens.  I believe that pasteurization had its time and place in history.  Prior to the advances that have been made in milking equipment and handling (like refrigeration), pasteurization was an amazing advance.  The process kills bacteria and sterilizes the milk.   Sterile is good, right?  Sterile is good if you are in a surgical operating theater, and not so good if you are trying to have a baby.

 

But the question closer to this discussion is, what does it mean for food to be sterile?  It means that along with the bad bacteria, the good bacteria are gone.   The heat destroys many essential elements, like amino acids that make the proteins more available to the body. The vitamins that are destroyed by heating the milk include as much as half of the vitamin C and all of the B12.  The mineral availability is also reduced.  How is this for a paradox:  drink milk for the calcium to develop healthy teeth and bones, but the only milk that is readily available to the American public has been pasteurized thus making the calcium less available for the body to use.  Heat also destroys enzymes, like lipase, which help with the digestion and utilization of the nutrients in the milk.  What happens once the milk is sterilized?  We fortify the milk by adding synthetic vitamins.  The milk is stripped of its nutrients and then synthetic fortification is added.  I see a pattern with our food, a pattern that is affecting every area of the American diet.

 

            Milk that comes out of a cow separates into layers: the lower, watery milk layer and the upper, butterfat-rich cream layer.  That watery layer is “skim milk,” which gets its name from people who back in the days before homogenization, skimmed that cream layer off of the milk to use for coffee or on their oatmeal.  Families who had their own cows wouldn’t drink that skimmed milk, they would feed it to their pigs because they didn’t think it fit for human consumption.  And yet, many Americans today drink skim milk because they think it is healthier due to the rampant “fatophobia” driving our food system.

 

            Most Americans don’t know that milk naturally separates because most Americans drink homogenized milk.  What is homogenization, exactly?  Milk passes through a filter at very high pressure.  The fat globules that form the cream layer are made smaller and become evenly dispersed within the liquid milk.  Well, that doesn’t sound so bad. The problem is that in this state, the fat molecules become “capsules” for substances that bypass digestion. Proteins that would normally be digested in the stomach or gut are not broken down.  Homogenized milk becomes a way of bypassing normal digestive processes and delivering steroid and protein hormones to the human body.  In theory, milk proteins are easily broken down by digestive processes.  In reality, homogenization insures their survival so that they enter the bloodstream without being broken down. Often, the body reacts to foreign proteins by producing histamines, then mucus (Cohen).  Did anyone ever tell you that you shouldn’t drink milk when you have a cold because it increases the amount of mucus?  Well…

 

We all have a choice, and I choose raw milk.  I can’t get it at the grocery store.  As a matter of fact, I can’t even get it in New Jersey because the sale of raw milk is illegal in NJ, which is a shame as it is something that could save the small dairy farmer.  Luckily at the time I am writing this, legislation is being considered in New Jersey to legalize the sale of raw milk.

 

One of the perks of drinking raw milk is that I have met some really wonderful farmers along the way.  Because I cannot get raw milk at the grocery store, my family’s dairy consumption has brought us into direct contact with our dairy farmer.  No middle man.  The money I pay for a gallon of milk goes directly to the farmer to continue making a high quality product, rather than 10% of what I pay going to the farmer.

 

 

Cohen, Robert. “Homogenized Milk: Rocket Fuel for Cancer.” Health101.org. Don Bennet, n.d. Web. 15 Jul 2010. <http://health101.org/art_milk_cancer_fuel.htm>.

Felony Milk

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Cows on Grass at Freedom Acres Farm

I am a felon.  I’ve not been convicted, nor even charged with anything.  And if I ever was charged, I’d be appalled that the government would waste money prosecuting a case over smuggled milk.

“Milk?” you ask.

Yes.  Milk.  I’m one of those people.  You know, the ones who drink raw milk.

“Raw?” you ask.

Well, not cooked, which is what pasteurization does.  And my argument for raw milk will come in another post.  The good news is that because I can’t buy it in a store because it is illegal to sell raw milk in NJ, I have to go directly to a farm.  In Pennsylvania.  And then bring it home, across state lines (that’s where the felony comes in), with the intention to drink it.

One of the big changes we made in our lives is trying to remove as many links as possible from our commodity chain.  We have a garden and we produce a goodly amount of tomatoes and cucumbers.  We have a thriving “s-berry” patch (an old farming superstition to not say anything good about them by name, or we jinx ’em!), as well as raspberries and young apple trees (so far so good on the apples, but who knows!).  Most of what we don’t grow ourselves, we get from a Community Supported Agriculture Farm (CSA) and local orchards.  And yes, in the winter, we sadly return to the grocery store…

At the moment, we are single-sourcing our meat, from Nature’s Sunlight Farm in Newville, PA.  I’m not going to get into our amazing relationship with the Nolt Family today because they are a post (or 6) in and of themselves.  No feedlot meat for us.  No battery-produced chickens.  No links between.  We pick it up from the farmer.

A beautiful Jersey cow at Freedom Acres Farm

Our raw milk odyssey has taken us up and down the NJ/PA border, finding different dairies, trying their product.  While all of the dairies with whom we dealt have wonderful milk, we felt that we were “trading out” on the various value-added products available, and that prices were kind of steep.

My friend Andrea (her name is changed to protect her from harm due to contraband milk smuggling collusion) called me a couple of weeks ago with a lead on a new farm.  She, as a resident of Pennsylvania, can legally purchase raw milk at a store.  However, she can save $4 a gallon by going directly to a farm.  She went and checked it out (doing nothing illegal, mind you, because her milk was not going to cross state lines).

Because she was so impressed with product, I had to go with her on the next milk run.  One blustery morning, I found myself at Freedom Acres Farm in Honey Brook, PA.  The farm is run by husband and wife team, Samuel and Esther Fisher.  Esther was at the door a minute after we arrived.  We brought in the “empties” and chatted about their products.

Andrea had warned me that the milk was going to be in big jars, but I had to chuckle when I saw the them.  They are institutional-sized pickle jars.  I find that irony really amusing.  Esther brought out a variety of cheeses, cream cheese and yogurt.  Samuel came in a bit later and started to chat with us in what I will call “teacher-mode” (enough people chide me about going into “teacher-mode,” so I do know it when I see it!), about pastured, grass-fed milk.  Andrea held up a hand and said, “Samuel, Natalie is the one who got me started on raw milk.”

I have been back, and plan to continue purchasing milk and dairy products from Freedom Acres.  The milk is creamy and delicious.  The cheeses are truly wonderful.  The cheddar is a house favorite.  The jalepeño cheddar wasn’t hot enough for my husband (but nothing ever is, unless his taste buds get seared off), but my son who has tastes the polar opposite of his father, thought it was delicious.  The Monterey Jack melts beautifully and has a nice silky consistency.

And oh, the butter.  The butter! Spring butter!  And if your head isn’t swimming in a moment of ecstasy thinking about spring butter, then you have never tasted it.  It is rich and has a flavor unlike anything I’ve ever spread on bread.  The color is a bright, deep yellow, and it is full of good nutrients like CLA!

If you are in the area of Honey Brook (or maybe even not so in the area… I’m driving over an hour to get there), I strongly recommend this farm.  The products are outstanding and the farmer and his wife are lovely people.

Freedom Acres Farm     Honey Brook, PA    610-273-2076

Making Your Own Greek-Style Yogurt

We love yogurt.  We especially love the thick, creamy Greek-style yogurt that has become so popular lately.  And just like everything else we have learned to do, making yogurt was a trial and error process.  The recipe that follows is more of a guideline than a hard and fast recipe.  The conditions in your kitchen will not be the same as the conditions in my kitchen.  Because we do not have air-conditioning at our house, the conditions in my kitchen vary drastically throughout the year, and therefore, so does my yogurt making.  I have one blanket for summer yogurt incubation and another for winter!

I have stopped using reserved yogurt as my starter.  I have found much more consistent results from using the whey that was strained from the last week’s yogurt.  However, you cannot strain commercial yogurt and use that whey as a starter.  That series of experiments was an epic fail!

Homemade Greek-Style Yogurt

3 ½ Cups of whole milk (see note below)

½ C plain yogurt (either commercial with LIVE cultures, or reserved from your last batch) OR 1/2 C whey from your last batch  of yogurt

candy thermometer

Heat the milk on the stove slowly.  If you are using pasteurized milk, heat to 180° F, and let cool to 110° F.  If you are using raw milk, heat to 110° F.   Whisk in the ½ C yogurt or whey.  Transfer to a quart size mason jar and place the jar and a heating pad inside a little cooler.  Turn the heating pad onto Medium.   Incubate for 4-8 hours, depending on how tart you like your yogurt.  After the yogurt has incubated, put it in the refrigerator until it is completely cooled (I usually leave it overnight).   The next morning, place a flour sack towel inside a sieve and place the sieve on a bowl.  If you have used raw milk, scrape the “cream” from the top and reserve in a small bowl.  Put the rest of the yogurt in the sieve.  Add the cream back on the top. Put it back in the fridge and let is strain for two or three hours.  Reserve the whey for lacto-fermenting (it will keep in a jar in the fridge for a couple of months).  Invert the sieve into the bowl and peel the towel off the yogurt and enjoy!  My children LOVE this yogurt salted for dipping vegetables.

NOTE:  I feel that grass-fed raw milk gives the best, most consistent results.  If you cannot get raw milk, try to find grass-fed milk that is not homogenized.  If you can’t find that, then settle for organic milk that has not been ultra-pasteurized.