insert cow joke here
This morning I had real milk for the first time. I can’t really say that all the other milk I have been drinking has been fake necessarily, but this milk says it’s real on the label and I believe it. It tasted real. Real delicious.
It’s from Sea Breeze Farm over on Vashon Island. Specifically it is from Luna, Pearl, Chocolate Soup, Maggie, Strawberry, and Cypress. Those are all the lucky lady cows that get to hang out on an island eating grass all day and in turn, they provide their tasty milk to fortunate fans, like myself. Last June, I was lucky enough to meet Chocolate Soup and although quiet, she seemed very nice.
So this milk is different than other milk in that it hasn’t been pasteurized. It is just straight up milk. And because of this, it has a warning on the label, as well as two warnings on the glass door of the refrigerator case where I bought it…
Who knew milk could be so dangerous! I feel so bold and reckless! The warnings are required by the WSDA to notify consumers that this milk could be potentially harmful to “pregnant women, children, the elderly, and those with lowered resistance to disease”. I feel like this seems a bit excessive considering the fact that Europeans have been drinking unpasteurized milk for centuries and using it in cheese making for centuries, coupled with the fact that they are generally perceived as healthier than Americans (attractiveness is not the same as healthfulness). But then again, what do I know! I am just a twenty-something, not pregnant or immune-compromised newly converted fan of unpasteurized milk who is clearly not showing any ill-effects from my experiences with it, but whatever.
So what is pasteurization and why is most milk pasteurized (and why do you care)? Basically pasteurization is just heating a liquid up to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Most juices are pasteurized, some eggs are pasteurized, canning uses pasteurization, and when you boil water on a backpacking trip, that is also pasteurization. According to the knowledgeable internet, thousands of years ago, Asian cultures used this method to preserve their wine, and then, in the 1800’s, some French dudes came to the same conclusion and now the whole shabang is named after one of them, which seems very unfair…
Anyway, these days, the modern dairy operation is a large scale, cowtastic, milking factory. I have toured a smaller one about thirty miles away from Seattle and it was a bit of a wake up call. There can be hundreds of cows, living in very close quarters, and it turns out they don’t know how to use toilets so things can be a little messy to say the least. It only makes sense that whatever milk produced under these conditions would need to be pasteurized. The proper heating and cooling of milk from this type of operation is very important due to the nature of the cows’ environment. If you are running a large scale dairy, you can’t afford the consequences if you don’t sterilize that milk and your consumers get sick. So, pasteurizing milk continues to be the norm.
However, nowadays, with the resurgence of a more environmentally and health conscious way of eating, there is a growing number of small scale farms offering their goods to consumers, Sea Breeze being one of them (and an excellent one at that). And the conditions at these smaller operations are significantly different than at a large scale dairy. The cows go from having a number to having names, like my new friend Chocolate Soup. Their living conditions are quite a bit less crowded making the chances of exposure to other cows’ health issues far more slim. The cows at Sea Breeze haven’t figured out the toilet thing yet either, but at least they have more pasture and land to roam around on to take care of their business. In addition, because there are so few cows that are being milked at any one time, greater care and attention can be paid to those animals, ensuring they are healthy and that everything is working properly. The bottom line here is that there are only six dairy cows at Sea Breeze, making the chances of contamination quite slim compared to a 100 cow operation (which would still be considered small in the dairy industry). Of course, proper sanitation during milking and careful attention to temperature when handling and storing the milk is still essential in both cases, but the pasteurizing of milk under Sea Breeze-type conditions, I feel, is superfluous and unnecessary. And like I said, I did meet Chocolate Soup and she looked real pretty and nice so I can’t see her sneaking nasty stuff into your milk anyway. She just wouldn’t do that.
So if you are looking for a thrill, a tasty glass of real milk, or a way to support these kinds of small scale diary operations where Cypress and Strawberry can frolic in the pasture together like giddy school children, then buy a gallon of raw milk the next time you have the opportunity. You will find yourself (get ready for it) begging for moooooo-re!