Thursday, July 05, 2007

Raw milk adventures

Every week from spring through autumn we are part of a raw milk co-op with Pleroma Farm. Why do we choose raw milk? (I'll start using first person here so I don't try to speak for Anthropapa.) I like that the cows eat only grass and hay, their natural diet. I like that I know the farmer personally. I like that the milk comes from an antique breed (Dutch Belted) of cow that has not been bred for unnatural milk production (like modern Holsteins). I like that there are no artificial ingredients in the milk. I like that the milk is totally unprocessed.

And that leads us to the part that makes most people squeamish. This milk is unpasteurized and unhomogenized. Most people think that pasteurization makes milk "safe." I believe that pasteurization can make milk safer if production methods are unsanitary or cows are diseased. But I can see with my own eyes that the dairy at Pleroma Farm is clean and neat, that the cows are healthy and contented. The milk is regularly tested by the state, in addition. Homogenization is just unnecessary in my opinion.

Growing up, I thought any sour smell meant that the milk had gone bad. Now, I know that sour milk is just on its way to becoming something yummy like cottage cheese or yogurt. (Though since my childhood milk was pasteurized, sourness probably really was a sign that the milk was bad, since all the good bacteria and enzymes had been removed during processing.)

Part of this comes from my milk Little House obsession. Those books are full of recipes for making hard and soft cheese, butter, and many other unprocessed foods. The other part comes from learning about traditional foods and nutrition from the Nourishing Traditions cookbook and Dr. Thomas Cowan.

We've been getting 1 1/2 gallons of raw milk a week, but recently SillyBilly has had a string of colds and coughs, and we were swimming in extra milk. Since we certainly didn't want to waste any of it, I made homemade cottage cheese. The nice part of this is that it's easier to digest and you get lots of whey for Nourishing Traditions recipes.


*Set out raw milk in a clean bowl and cover with a clean cloth. Let this sit for a day or so, depending on the temperature, until the milk smells nicely sour.

*Set the bowl of soured milk over a pan of water (to create a double-boiler) and gently heat the milk until the milk solids and whey separate. Don't boil the milk!

*Pour the curds and whey through cheesecloth, saving the whey in a canning jar. Gently squeeze the rest of the whey out of the curds in the cheesecloth. Rinse the curds in cold water and gently squeeze again.

*Put the curds into a clean bowl, mash or cut gently with a fork, and add cream for consistency and salt to taste.


Then I realized that because the milk is unhomogenized, there's at least a good inch of cream at the top of each milk container. I poured it off, set it out to sour, and whipped up some homemade butter. (In part inspired by a recent post by The Not Quite Crunchy Parent!) The butter came out amazingly yellow, thanks to the good pastures at the farm. There were several disasters along the way, including too much milk in the cream and sour milk all over the kitchen table and floor, but in the end we did make a little pat:


Update: I tried another round of cottage cheese, and this time it would..not..separate! I think the double-boiler rig I created just didn't work, or I got too impatient and turned the heat up too high. Ah well, another day of kitchen chemistry!

2 comments:

(un)relaxeddad said...

Do those recipes only work with the non-pasteurised or homogenised kinds of milk?

Henitsirk said...

Hey URD: Sorry it's taken me so long to respond but recently I've had enough energy for 5 tasks, and this always ended up number 6!

I got the cottage cheese recipe from The Little House Cookbook by Barbara Walker, which was written for a wide (read: pasteurized-milk-driking) audience. So the original recipe called for 1 gallon of pasteurized nonfat milk and 1/2 cup cultured buttermilk (to give some activity back to the milk). Otherwise it's exactly the same. I think the nonfat milk is just a nod to the common US distaste for fat, but whole milk would taste a lot better in my opinion.

As for the butter, you need heavy cream, which could be pasteurized or not. You could sour the cream as well, which would yield what is known in the US as cultured or European-style butter. Or you can use fresh cream, which tastes good too.

I used a mixer to churn the butter, but you can also just shake the cream in a large canning jar...which might amuse Dudelet for a bit!